§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.33 p.m.
The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Derick Heathcoat Amory)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
We are to discuss a Bill the objects of which will, I am sure, commend themselves to all sections of the House, as, I am glad to say, they seem to have done to all sections of agriculture. Personally, I own to a special interest and enthusiasm for the Bill. Before I came into this House, I was for nearly twenty-five years employed in industry—perhaps, some hon. Members may think, more harmlessly employed than I have been since.
During those years, my experiences convinced me that in those days in industry generally far too little attention relatively was devoted to problems of human relations and to the well-being and morale of the human beings who composed industry. Any industry, surely, has two functions: to serve the community and to provide a decent and satisfying livelihood to those engaged in it. However mechanised or highly organised an industry becomes, let us never forget that, at bottom, it is a collection of human beings. The quality of its service and its efficiency depends on the morale and team spirit of the individual men and women who comprise the industry; and so this is a very important subject with which we are dealing. I always like those lines:Ill fares the land, to hast'ning ills a prey, Where wealth accumulates, and men decay;British agriculture in its long tradition has much of which it can be proud. There is nothing of which it can feel more proud than the very close and understanding relations that almost always exist between employer and employed. Perhaps this is largely because units are so much smaller in agriculture than in industry generally and farmers and farm workers have traditionally lived and worked intimately together. I feel that much of the troubles in human relations in industry stem from the fact that worker and boss in modern industry are so often 1348 remote from one another. When one knows somebody personally, one may or may not like him but one cannot misunderstand him, and in a crisis it is always possible to tell somebody else what one thinks of him. I think also that there is something about working on the land which seems to generate a kind of loyalty to the job, which, surely, is one of the healthiest and soundest recipes for happiness in life.
I feel, therefore, that hon. Members will agree that in our approach to this subject today, we are not grappling with something which is seriously unsatisfactory. It is not a question of righting wrongs but of seeing that our oldest and, I think, most important single industry, which provides livelihoods to over a million people in this country, is not handicapped by being denied the legislative safeguards for ensuring health and safety that most other industries possess.
I am sure that the whole House will be sorry that the hon. Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Gooch) has been prevented by illness from being with us today. We all know that the objects of the Bill are objects very near to his heart and that he has rendered great services in this direction. We all trust that he will soon be restored to health and will be able to join in our later discussions on the Bill. We all know also of the particular interest in this subject of the hon. Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies), and I feel sure that he will give a warm welcome to the Bill.
The House will note that in the Bill the main emphasis is placed on safety. Hon. Members know that over the past fifteen years, the most astonishing developments have taken place in agriculture. British agriculture is today the most mechanised in the world. In 1939, it was estimated that there were about 55,000 agricultural tractors in the country, and today there are about 470,000 tractors. Nor are we at the end of the road yet. I am certain that revolutionary developments stemming from the continuous output of new discoveries from our scientists and engineers lie ahead. But these developments inevitably have caused a flow of accidents about which we cannot feel complacent. Each year there are about 25,000 accidents in agriculture, of varying seriousness, but sufficiently serious to give rise to claims under the industrial injuries scheme, and Industrial Injury 1349 Benefit is paid to the tune of about £500,000; each year, too, there are about 150 fatal accidents in agriculture. No one expects that even our best efforts can eliminate accidents altogether, but it is quite obvious that if we can cut down the number of serious accidents we shall not only save much human suffering but render a great benefit to agriculture and to the community.
The objective is clear, but to find the best path to it is by no means a simple matter. For workers in our factories protective legislation has gradually grown up and developed over the past 150 years. How different are the problems of protecting the worker in agriculture, where the units, as I have said, are comparatively small and widely scattered, and where there is such variation between one district and another and also between farm and farm. The scope of the Bill has to range from the high hills to the fenlands and from market gardening to cattle breeding.
We have to devise methods of protection which will be reasonable and practicable both for the farmer to provide and for the worker to observe. For those reasons the Bill has not been prepared without a great deal of thought and without a great deal of consultation as to the best ways of gaining our objects and of maintaining what I may call a balance of practicability which will commend itself to all concerned; for it is on the willing co-operation of all concerned that the success of legislation of this kind must depend.
The foundation that we have built on has been the most valuable recommendations of the Committee on Health, Welfare and Safety in Non-Industrial Employment, which sat under the very able chairmanship of Sir Ernest Gowers. Of that Committee my hon. Friend and colleague the Member for Guildford (Mr. Nugent) was a member, as were also the hon. Lady the Member for Leeds, South-East (Miss Bacon) and my hon. Friend the Member for Banff (Mr. Duthie).
Since that Committee reported, quite a long time ago, in 1949, we have been able to collect useful information about the numbers and about the kinds of accidents occurring in agriculture. Since that time we have had the benefit of consultations with the organisations representing all the agricultural interests and 1350 other connected interests, not only at quite an early stage but also latterly, about the general scope and contents of this Measure; and I am very happy that, as a result, there is broad agreement between all sides of the industry about the objects of the Bill and about its governing principles. I think that that is a good augury for its success.
The Bill, besides providing for the protection of the agricultural worker, deals also with the prevention of accidents to children. I shall come to that in a moment.
Now we come to the question: How does this Measure seek to achieve the objects we all have in mind? Today, I shall only point out the general principles on which it is intended the Bill should operate and comment very briefly on its main provisions. There are many matters of detail which, I hope, we shall have an opportunity of discussing together fully in Committee, and I do not think I need touch separately on them at this stage.
As to the safety aspects, the Bill is largely an enabling Measure, giving to the Agricultural Ministers power to make regulations covering a comprehensive range of likely accidents on the farm. These powers are conferred by Clause 1, which contains a sort of illustrative list of the kinds of subjects on which regulations will probably be required to be made. Those are the subjects on which, from our present knowledge, regulations are most likely to be needed, but—and I want to stress this very particularly—before those regulations may be made the Ministers must consult the organisations representing the various interests concerned, as is provided in Clause 16. I think that that is a very sensible and very important provision, because hon. Members, I am sure, will conclude that the results which will flow from the Measure will depend to an immense degree on the appropriateness of the regulations.
All sides of the industry are agreed on this principle of providing sufficiently wide and flexible powers subject to prior consultation before the regulations are made. I, personally, think that the more one studies this problem the more one is driven to the conclusion that that is the only sensible and practicable way of achieving what we want. We must be able to cover not only the risks that are 1351 known today, the risks causing accidents now, but those which may arise in the future as a result of constant advance in mechanisation and scientific research.
As to the risks existing today, we must also provide for flexibility, because we hope from time to time that we shall find better, more effective ways of dealing with those specific accidents. I think hon. Members will conclude, as we have, that it would be rather too rigid to embody in the Measure itself regulations which, we hope, we shall be reviewing and improving as time goes on. For those reasons I hope that the House will agree that, though the powers are wide, they are wide because of practical necessity.
I shall touch only very briefly on the other provisions of the Bill. The provisions for the protection of the workers' safety are completed by Clause 2, which deals with the handling of excessive weights, and by the obligations imposed by Clause 5 to provide first-aid boxes on all farms where workers are employed. I hope that the provision of first-aid boxes will be a practical incentive to all concerned to learn the elementary principles of first aid, and I hope, too, that those first-aid boxes will always be found to contain what they are intended to contain and nothing else. It is what is inside them that matters. I have a horrible recollection of what one used to find in people's respirator cases during the war.
There are provisions in Clauses 3 and 4 for the well-being of workers in the matter of sanitary conveniences and washing facilities. Here, we sought to translate the recommendations of the Gowers Committee into legislative form and to preserve their intentions. We hope that the resulting provisions provide for meeting the reasonable needs of workers without any unnecessary or absurd requirements, but I daresay that at a later stage—
§ Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North)
I notice that in this Clause a distinction is made between sanitary conveniences, in which case the initiative lies with the sanitary authorities, and washing facilities, where the initiative lies with the Minister. Would the right hon. Gentleman explain why that distinction is drawn in the Clause?
It is drawn for very pragmatic reasons, in that the sanitary arrangements have always been the direct responsibility of the local authorities in England and Wales, whereas we think that, in practice, washing facilities can be most effectively and economically inspected by our own inspectors when they are going round in the course of other duties.
That is precisely the kind of case that no doubt we shall be discussing in Committee. In the matter of these provisions of sanitary arrangements and washing facilities we may get involved at a later stage in interesting discussions dealing with sundry essentially practical questions of a domestic nature. When the time comes I hope that views, however passionately held, will be propounded with moderation and propriety.
Among the last of the executive provisions of the Bill, Clause 6 is aimed at preventing accidents to children under 13 years of age by stopping them driving or riding on prescribed machines, vehicles and implements on the farm. Unhappily, a considerable number of serious accidents to children arise on farms, from such causes as falling under tractors or towed implements on which they have been riding. I am sure that the House will be behind us in trying to do something to reduce the number of such accidents.
I have seen it suggested that these provisions may run the danger of discouraging children from taking an early interest in farm life and work. We must be very careful not to do that, but I want to see as many of these children as possible preserved to become good farmers and farm workers. Throughout the Bill we must keep a sense of perspective and must legislate in a sensible way, bearing in mind 'our main objectives.
Clauses 7 to 23 contain the usual ancillary provisions to give effect to legislation of this kind. I do not think that there is any need at this stage to take hon. Members through them in detail.
§ Mr. Gerald Nabarro (Kidderminster)
I am sure that my right hon. Friend would not wish to disparage Clause 9 by referring to it as something of an ancillary character. Is it not correct that it proposes the establishment of a service, analogous to the factory inspectorate, in 1353 the form of a corps of farm or agricultural inspectors who will be responsible for the enforcement of the safety, health and welfare measures in the Bill?
My hon. Friend is so quick off the mark that it is extremely difficult to get in first. The very next thing on my note was, "Clause 9" and this is what I would have said if my hon. Friend had not interrupted me and which I have great pleasure in saying now. I should like to say a few words about the arrangements for inspection provided in Clause 9, in case hon. Members should fear that we have in mind to appoint a large new inspectorate specially for this purpose and, therefore, a fresh group of official visitors to call on farmers. We are not proposing that at all.
We think that this work can be most effectively and economically carried out by the present staffs of the agricultural departments, who carry out inspections under the Agricultural Wages Act, 1948, and the Agriculture (Poisonous Substances) Act, 1952. When the Bill is in full swing as an Act we think that we shall have to increase the numbers somewhat, but the work will normally be done during visits which are already paid to farms. Therefore, farmers need not fear that they will receive two visits where now they receive one.
§ Mr. J. T. Price (Westhoughton)
It may be a Committee point for detailed examination later on, but is the right hon. Gentleman suggesting that in the inspectorate of the kind which he envisages there will be nobody with engineering qualifications to give competent advice in dealing with complex machinery? I should have thought that anyone not qualified in that sense would not be a competent person to inspect and advise.
I want to say one or two things on that point, but that is particularly the kind of point we shall be discussing in Committee. I think that the hon. Member has touched upon a very relevant and important aspect of this matter. It is perfectly true that 20 per cent. of total accidents and 46 per cent. of fatal accidents arise from the use of machinery. Therefore, that is a very proper point for the hon. Member to make.
§ Mr. Nabarro
Will my right hon. Friend permit one more question? Surely these inspectors, whoever they are to be ultimately, must be armed with powers comparable with the powers enjoyed under the Factories Act, 1937, by a factory inspector, because so much of agricultural machinery, such as grass drying and hop picking machinery, is very large and complicated. It requires that there should be powers to safeguard workers in certain jobs, and also powers of entry on the part of the inspectorate.
There is an analogy between factories and farms in a good deal of the work, but there are limitations to that analogy. However, in this aspect of inspection we have, in general, modelled the provisions closely on the Factories Acts.
I have given a brief exposition of what the Bill is about and what it provides. In conclusion, I should like to peer into the future for a moment and say how we hope it will work. Although I sincerely hope that the Measure will be of real practical help, legislation by itself can never provide the complete answer in matters like this, particularly to safety problems. Much, perhaps most, lies in the conduct of the individual himself—the man who is actually doing the job. To make him aware of the best and safest way of doing his work, so that the right precautions will become second nature to him, is a function of education, training and propaganda which must work in this case in double harness with legislation if we are to obtain the results which we all want. I have faith that it will do so.
I am particularly glad to learn of the National Agricultural Safety Committee having been set up as a result of the joint initiative of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents and the National Farmers' Unions of England and Wales and Scotland. I hope that this Committee will have the full support of all the interests concerned.
Although this Bill will have the backing of compulsory powers, I am sure that landowners, employers and workers alike will see in it something which should be used spontaneously and co-operatively for the benefit of all. In that spirit and attitude I assure them that they can rely on the enthusiastic help of the agricultural departments and of our staffs in the field.
1355 I repeat that this Measure is the result of much consultation. It is ploughing a new furrow and we must always keep in mind that here we are dealing with an industry which is unique in its nature and unique, too, in the highly responsible and intimate relationship between master and man. Although I believe the Bill provides as sensible, fair and effective solutions to these problems as can be provided by legislation, we are not rash enough to claim that it is perfection.
I hope that we can rely on hon. Members on all sides of the House to help us with their suggestions and views during our discussions. If, as a result of those views and suggestions, we can improve the Bill then we shall be extremely pleased.
§ 4.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Thomas Williams (Don Valley)
I want to supplement the observations of the Minister on the unfortunate absence of my colleague the hon. Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Gooch). For several years my hon. Friend has been profoundly interested in this matter and he must have devoted many days, weeks and months in an effort to persuade the Department to proceed with a Bill at the earliest moment, so I specially regret his absence this afternoon.
We can ease the mind of the right hon. Gentleman at once by telling him that we welcome this Bill wholeheartedly. Subject to close scrutiny of details, and an effort or two we shall make to amend and improve the Bill, we shall give the Minister all the help we can to give it speedy passage through its various stages.
This Measure does not so much right a wrong as deal with a long overdue problem, because evidence has been mounting for several years on the need for such legislation. I am glad that the Minister has referred to the recommendations of the Gowers Committee and has brought the Bill up to date. Also, I congratulate the National Union of Agricultural Workers on their activities in this matter, for I know that it has been campaigning for such a Bill for a long time. As, hitherto, there have been no safeguards for the lives and limbs of agricultural workers, if the Bill is not righting a wrong it is doing something positive and worth while. I can well imagine that the record of accidents kept 1356 by the National Union of Agricultural Workers and the number, variety and types of cases with which the Union has dealt, must have been a great help both to the Minister and his Department in preparing the Bill.
A good case was made out in 1949 by the Gowers Committee for at least a modest Bill, but developments since that date have made the Measure infinitely more urgent today than it was then. As the right hon. Gentleman referred to mechanisation, it may interest hon. Members if I remind them that, since the Gowers Committee reported, about £300 million worth of machinery and implements have gone on to our farms between 1949 and today, and that between 70,000 and 80,000 farms have been connected with electricity. Many of the accidents, fatal or otherwise, are attributable to one or the other, and it is not generally realised just how many accidents take place on our farms, many of which could be avoided if elementary precautions were taken by the producers of machinery, the owners and the users.
In 1954, workers in agriculture, horticulture and forestry were involved in no fewer than 25,000 accidents. As the right hon. Gentleman has stated, of those 151 were fatal and involved twenty children under 15 years of age. The 1954 death roll in agriculture amounted to fifteen more than the average for the previous three years, and the figures have been mounting year by year, so accelerating urgency for this Measure.
It is worth noting that of the 151 fatal accidents in 1954 63 were due either to machinery or electricity, and another large block of accidents were due to shaky floors in farm buildings and to unfenced stairways and ladders which are often used instead of a proper stairway. The overall figure of accidents in agriculture, horticulture and forestry represents about 3.6 per cent. of the workers, which is only slightly lower than for metal manufacture and building and contracting and is higher than for engineering, shipbuilding, chemical and allied trades and the vehicle industry. Yet until today there has been no statutory power to enforce elementary safeguards in this basic industry.
It is reasonably safe to say that if effective regulations, such as those envisaged in this Bill, had been in operation to provide for dangerously exposed parts 1357 of different machines, and to provide for proper attention to the floors and stairways of buildings, many fatal and non-fatal accidents could have been avoided. I could quote scores of different types of accidents which take place in this industry, as could the right hon. Gentleman, but as most hon. Members will be aware of them I need not waste time in such details.
At first glance one might have expected a short Measure simply bringing agriculture under the Factories Acts. I am not sure that this would not have been the best way, but I recognise the limitation embodied in the Gowers recommendation that agriculture was an industry fundamentally unsuited to control by a Statute of that character. If we have not got the Factories Act at least we welcome an extension from the recommendation of the Committee into operations and processes, limitation as to weights and prohibition of children from driving and riding on machinery, as well as to animal management which largely refers to bulls. However, as the right hon. Gentleman has said rightly, everything will depend upon the kind of regulations and the way in which those regulations are administered.
I want to ask the Minister one or two questions. Clause 1 (3) to paragraph (g) covers a number of matters, but there is no reference to adequate lighting in farm buildings or proper floor drains, particularly in milking sheds. May we be told whether paragraph (h) covers these items? I do not expect an answer immediately, but perhaps we might have one later. I hope that paragraph (h) will make possible a regulation for the lighting of farm buildings as well as the provision of proper drains, particularly in milking sheds. These things are very important. I am sure the Minister will be aware of the very large number of accidents caused by bad lighting in some farm buildings.
Clause 1 (5) provides that an inspector may be given power by regulation to grant certificates of exemption in particular cases or to particular persons. I should like to know what the Minister has in mind and to give us an indication of the type of exemption that he visualises. I think I could mention one or two types, but I should much prefer the right hon. Gentleman to tell us what he has in mind about the cases in which an inspector might grant an exemption. I should like to hear that because the power is to be 1358 given to "an inspector." I hope hon. Members will think about that for a moment. There is a power of exemption in the Factories Act, but it is divided between the Home Secretary and the Chief Inspector, not "an inspector."
The Minister has told us that it is not proposed to appoint a large number of inspectors, which might result in duplicate visits to farms for various purposes, but has in mind at the moment—I hope it will not remain there very long—that the wages inspectors are the people who will do this inspection. I do not know how many wages inspectors there are at present or what their engineering qualifications are, but I cannot imagine that the number operating when I was at the Department would be capable of covering 62 counties and 360,000 farms, doing the job effectively and efficiently unless they first had appropriate training for the job and unless they were persons who were qualified to do an important job of this description.
If the power of exemption were widely exercised by a technically inefficient person or an amateur, it could weaken the Bill very considerably indeed and anomalies could arise all over the place. What was obligatory on one farm would not be obligatory on a neighbouring farm. Therefore, it is important that whoever is given power to provide a certificate of exemption should be a most responsible person. I hope the Minister will either say something more about this or think a good deal more about it between now and the next stage of the Bill. I think it would be far safer if the responsibility for exemptions, as under the Factories Act, resided in the Minister or the Secretary of State for Scotland.
Clause 3 deals with sanitary conveniences and washing facilities. One of my hon. Friends has already asked why there should be a subdivision between the sanitary authorities and the Department. There may be justifiable reasons for this, and perhaps we shall hear about them in Committee. I do not intend to press the point here. However, it is well known that local authorities and sanitary authorities are good, bad and indifferent, and there might be cases where the inspector or whoever was responsible was lethargic and failed to fulfil the terms of the Act or the duties imposed upon him by the Measure or the regulations. Under the 1359 Factories Act, the Home Secretary retained powers in case of default, so that if the sanitary authority or any other authority failed in its duty, he could step in. I feel that in this case the right hon. Gentleman ought to reserve default powers to himself and the Secretary of State for Scotland, so that where the terms of the Measure are not enforced a Minister can insist upon that being done. Surely that is a reasonable request.
Clause 5, which deals with first aid, is rather loose and scarcely meets the case. Unlike in a factory where the distance between the worker and the first-aid box is limited by the size of the building, it frequently happens that the agricultural worker may be a mile or two or three miles from the farmhouse. It may very well be that he is working alone. It might, therefore, be impossible for an injured person to reach the first-aid equipment or to summon help until it was too late to do any good. Would it not be possible to provide for mobile first-aid packs which could be transferred from one machine or vehicle to another when the men were working a mile or two away from the farmhouse? I think that point might be considered before the Committee stage of the Bill.
Also, while the right hon. Gentleman expressed a hope that agricultural workers would try to acquire first-aid knowledge, there is no reference to the person in charge of the box being qualified in first-aid. I appreciate the difficulties, especially where there may be only one or two workers, but it would not be impossible to make a start where there were a number of workers in excess of a stated figure by insisting upon the first-aid box being in the charge of a person trained to deal with it. I hope that the Minister will also examine that matter.
In view of the large number of accidents involving the death of young persons, we gladly welcome Clause 6. I should like to ask the Minister whether, despite the Children and Young Persons Act, 1933, as amended by the Education Act, 1944, it is still possible for young persons between 13 and 15 years of age to drive or to ride on vehicles while they are engaged on agricultural operations. Perhaps we might have an answer later.
Clause 8, dealing with inquests in cases of death by accident, does not repeat 1360 Section 67 of the Factories Act, which provides that a person appointed by a trade union may attend the inquest proceedings and examine any witness. As an old trade union leader, I am rather surprised at this. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that this privilege was always appreciated by the coroner as much as anyone else, and particularly by bereaved relatives, who welcomed the presence of a trade union representative who had practical knowledge of working conditions and could, therefore, safeguard their interests. I attended many inquests, and, where necessary, put questions for clarification to any number of witnesses.
I do not recall a solitary occasion on which there was an unpleasant incident arising out of those questions. In fact, I think that the coroners with whom I was associated appreciated the presence of someone with practical knowledge of working conditions in the industry in which an accident had happened, because this helped them to understand much more about the position. I should like to ask the Minister to consider whether or not the same conditions should be applied as those which apply under the Factories Act, to enable a trade union representative to be present at an inquest if it is felt desirable.
The only other question, which the Minister has almost answered before I ask it, is how many inspectors does he think are necessary to do the job, bearing in mind that within the confines of 62 counties there are between 360,000 and 370,000 farms. This is a big undertaking. The Money Resolution suggests a possible expenditure of £70,000. That is a lot of money, but not when we compare it with £4,500 million. It is to be hoped that this will not be merely a paper Bill which produces little or no effect in the end.
I hope that this important job of safeguarding the life and limb of the agricultural worker will be carried out effectively. I promise the Minister that, while we may ask for this or that at later stages, we shall do nothing deliberately to avoid a speedy passage for this Measure. Whether the Bill is regarded as Socialism or tiddly-winks, I think that it is really important.
§ 4.22 p.m.
§ Mr. James Lindsay (Devon, North)
It is a great privilege to follow the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Don Valley 1361 (Mr. T. Williams), who has done such distinguished work for agriculture. As this is the first time that I have addressed the House, I should like to ask hon. Members for the indulgence and toleration which they always show to those who are speaking here for the first time. For my part, I think that I have chosen a non-controversial subject and that, in that sense, I am conforming to tradition. Although there may be differences of opinion about the best means of achieving the end set out in the Bill, there can be no difference about the desirability of the end itself.
I am pleased to be able to speak in the debate, because it concerns agriculture—which is the most important industry in the constituency of Devon, North, which I represent in this House—and, in my view, is the most important industry in the country. This Bill is also related to the effort to improve conditions in rural areas, in that it sets out to raise the living and working conditions of farm workers and others engaged in similar occupations.
This is a most important aim, first, from the severely practical point of view that we want to keep people in the countryside. We want to arrest the drift from the land which, in some parts of the country, is very serious and which, if it continues, will have a most detrimental effect upon food production. Both from the economic point of view and as an insurance against a future war we must do all we can to remedy the state of affairs.
People leave the land for many reasons, but a large number leave because they think that the conditions are unsatisfactory and do not compare favourably with those in the nearby towns. The remedy is to do what we can to provide better conditions for country people and farm workers. However, we ought not to look at this matter purely as an expedient to ensure an adequate labour force to get the food which we require. We ought to look at it also from the point of view of the countryman himself. He is an essential and important member of the community who deserves every consideration and help that can be given. So far as it is possible he ought to be provided with the services and the advantages which are available to those who live in towns.
When people are talking about these services in urban districts I often find that 1362 they refer to them as necessities of life, but when they are talking about the country districts those necessities become something called amenities which are to be enjoyed by the countryman if he is fortunate enough to be provided with them. The amenities of the countryman must become his necessities. That is the attitude which we must adopt.
A great deal has been done since the war by all Governments, to improve conditions in rural areas. There has been a great expansion of electricity, sewerage, drainage and water supply services, many houses have been built and there have been improvements in rural transport, and so on. Though a great deal has been done, much remains to be done, and this work must be pressed forward to the utmost.
I should like to look at the Bill in that setting—as part of the general improvement; as part of the effort to raise conditons generally. The Bill does that in that it sets out to give the farm worker the safety, health and welfare conditions which are enjoyed by the industrial worker in the towns. These services have been built up over generations, and they are now to be granted to the farm worker. Farm work is becoming more dangerous as time goes on. A generation ago, before mechanisation, accidents with animals were the chief cause of mishaps. Now, added to them, are the risks and hazards arising from the new and powerful machinery which it is the duty of the farm workers to operate.
Clause 1 of the Bill makes provision for regulations which may be put into effect as and when necessary. I am glad that plenty of latitude and scope is allowed in their administration. There is no attempt to impose the great structure of the Factories Acts upon the industry. No hard and fast system of rules and regulations is really required. The necessity is for regulations which can be adapted and adjusted to the circumstances of each farm. There is no standardised trouble or danger, and there can be no standardised answer.
Much will be left to the discretion of the inspectors who must be highly competent. The success of the scheme will depend very largely upon the way in which they implement these rules and upon their common sense. Their judgment will be necessary in respect of Clause 3, 1363 for instance, regarding extra washing facilities. On a large farm with a big labour force it is necessary and right that such facilities should be provided, but most of our farms are small. An immense number are run by the farmer and his family and, perhaps, one worker.
Without saying anything disparaging about the larger units, I would say that if a man is working with his employer all day long he is in a more intimate relationship than is the man on a big farm. Any facilities for washing which the worker may need will be available in the farmer's house. In the small farms, additional washing facilities will not be necessary.
The provision for first-aid boxes, mentioned in Clause 5, is a very good one. I wonder whether it would not be a good plan to issue a small pamphlet to indicate how and when the various requisites should be used. I think we all agree that the measures to avoid accidents to children are very helpful, though I quite agree with the Minister when he says that we hope that children will not be deterred from taking a keen interest in the farm and enjoying riding on farm vehicles when it is safe and feasible to do so.
I should like to reiterate my welcome to the Bill. It will do a great deal to help the agricultural worker in particular, and, in general, to raise the standard of life in our countryside and make sure that it is healthy, vigorous and contented in the future.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Mr. A. J. Champion (Derbyshire, South-East)
In ten and a half years, this happens to be the first time I have had the pleasure of congratulating an hon. Member on his maiden speech. I must admit that, when I was told that I might have this opportunity, I had almost as many butterflies in my stomach as on the occasion when I made my own maiden speech, lest I should not do the job as well as one ought to do it. I feel that in this case we have listened to a well-informed speech on a subject of tremendous interest to the agricultural industry, and, I am sure, to the constituency of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Devon, North (Mr. J. Lindsay).
The hon. Gentleman appeared to me to be perfectly confident. I do not know how he does it, but I congratulate him 1364 upon his performance today. I remember the story of Addison when he addressed the House for the first time in days when hon. Members here were not quite so kind to maiden speakers as they are now. Addison said: "Mr. Speaker, I conceive——." He stopped, and then went on, "I conceive——"and stopped again. This happened three times, and then an hon. Gentleman opposite rose and said, "The hon. Gentleman has conceived three times and brought forth nothing."
In this case, the hon. Member for Devon, North has not only conceived an excellent speech on this topic, but he has brought it forth in a style and manner on which he may be congratulated. He can send on his speech to his local Press and be satisfied that its publication will do him a lot of good and my party a lot of harm.
I should like to follow the hon. Gentleman on one point he made about the Bill. As a step towards bringing the agricultural worker up to the standard which has for so long been enjoyed by the industrial worker, it was right that this Measure should be introduced. The Gowers Report stressed the importance of this in 1949 and, although it is true that it has taken a long time to produce the Bill, we have had in the interim some parts of that Report implemented by the Agriculture (Poisonous Substances) Act, 1952.
I think it was justifiable in this case that there should have been delay before bringing in the Bill. It was right that there should have been the very careful negotiations and consultations which have, in fact, taken place. Now, the Minister has produced a Bill with which, although we shall quarrel on particular points and parts of it, we are, in the main, bound to agree.
It is important that we should do everything in our power to bring to the agricultural worker the same sort of safeguards us are enjoyed by the industrial workers, not only from the aspect of the suffering caused by accidents—and such suffering is obvious to everybody—but also from another aspect. Despite the increase of benefits given in the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act, and although the benefits are rather better than under the old workmen's compensation system, it is a fact that people who do suffer accidents and lose work as a consequence 1365 have a thin time on the benefits which they receive from National Insurance. People who are injured undoubtedly suffer for a time as a result, and during that time they often run into debt. It takes a long time for them to pull themselves out of that condition on the wages which the agricultural worker receives. Therefore, everything must be done from that aspect to avoid those accidents which are avoidable.
The Minister, quite rightly, made a point about the provision and use of first-aid boxes, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) stressed the importance of this question. I can say, as one who has been connected with an industry in which these first-aid boxes are provided, and in which they are supposed to be used by those who really know something about first-aid work, that time after time when one went to inspect the first-aid boxes, one found them to contain a lot of things which they ought not to have contained, and not to contain a lot of things which they should have done.
I think the Minister might make clear, when issuing his instructions to his inspectors—as he will undoubtedly have to do under the Clauses of the Bill—that part of their job will be the regular inspection of these first-aid boxes. This is important, and I hope the Minister will consider it; we might return to it during the Committee stage.
In the industry in which I was employed, we had a system in which there was provision for training in first-aid work. How are we to do that in a rural community? Shall we be able to do it by means of evening classes? Might there be some other way, and if there is not, can the Minister devise a way which will ensure that there will be a system in the rural areas by which someone with a sufficient knowledge of first-aid work would undertake the tasks which occasionally do fall to be done when accidents happen?
Another point to which I wish to make a short reference—and, obviously, I cannot cover all the points which were so well covered by my right hon. Friend on the Opposition Front Bench—concerns the regulations which the Minister will make under Clause 1 (3, f), which provides for 1366(f) imposing requirements with respect to the fencing of apertures in floors or walls, the construction and maintenance of staircases and the provision in connection therewith of handrails and other safeguards and the construction and maintenance of ladders.There is no doubt at all that so many of our farm buildings in this country are in a really shocking state. I think it is one of the disasters of recent years that, when so much capital has been flowing into this industry, at least until the beginning of the recent credit squeeze, remarkably little has been done about the modernisation of fixed capital equipment, or to bring buildings up to date. The farmers themselves have done a great deal by investment in machinery and plant, but I think that the existing landlord-tenant system has militated against the modernisation of buildings, most of which date back for well over a hundred years, many of them for two hundred years, and I dare say we could find plenty which have stood for over three hundred years.
I believe that it is the case that the landlord-tenant system has prevented that modernisation, though it is a fact that many farmers who own their own farms have done remarkably little with their buildings, or have been strangely reluctant to set about the task of injecting a little of the new capital which has been flowing to them into their buildings and so make them more efficient for their purpose. In so many cases, farm buildings are inefficient from the management point of view, because they waste labour and are, indeed, a positive danger. Everyone who has ever inspected a farm, stayed on a farm, gone over or worked on one, knows how much care is needed to avoid rat holes and rot holes in the floors, rotten or non-existent handrails in stairs, missing stairs and missing rungs in ladders. These are frequent causes of accidents on farms.
I have recently received a very valuable pamphlet by a Mr. King, of the Nuffield Foundation Research Unit, Cambridge, in which he reported his investigations into the age variation in accident rates in agriculture, particularly sorting out the age ranges at which men are particularly prone to accidents. He reported that of 1,991 accidents, 252 were caused by falling from heights or from machines. His figures show that with age one is not so nimble, is not so well able to see and avoid the gaps in the stairs and 1367 the like. The 51–60 age group had through those causes almost three times the accidents which the 15–20 age group have. The older group is normally the more careful section of farm workers.
It really is time that we tackled the problem of farm buildings and layouts and I suggest that we ought to create a branch of the N.A.A.S. with special responsibility for advising on farm buildings, both for safety and for other aspects. I believe that if we do that we will add to the safety of those employed in agriculture and be doing something to further the purpose which has rightly caused the Minister to bring the Bill to the House.
§ 4.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Mathew (Honiton)
I ask the House to grant me that indulgence which it normally accords to an hon. Member rising to speak for the first time. I wish to intervene in the debate because I have the honour to represent a constituency where the principal activity is farming, and because I have been engaged in farming for a good many years. I fully recognise that there are many hon. Members who are much better equipped than I to comment on the Bill, and for that reason I shall be brief.
In the main, all concerned with agriculture will warmly welcome the objects of the Bill. The reservations which I make arise from the fact that a farm is not a factory and agriculture is not a uniform service, but an extremely diverse industry which runs to no coherent pattern. Indeed, in introducing the Bill the Minister pointed out how very variegated the industry is, how very different are the activities that come under the heading of farming.
One of the strongest impressions which I received when I entered the House, and met those representing rural constituencies, was to realise how restricted was my own direct experience of farming and how widespread and varied an industry was agriculture, ranging from the small Highland croft to those large and highly mechanised modern units which are mostly found in the east of England. In that large range are included such experimental exceptions as very large holdings which look remarkably like the sort of ranch which one finds in America or Canada.
1368 The real need for this Bill arises from the increasing use of the machine in agriculture. The days when Punchseemed to have only one agricultural cartoon showing the parson being chased by a mad bull, are long past. Now, the terror of the countryside is not only the mad bull, but such sinister things as circular saws and fast moving, tractor-drawn machinery. Agriculture is not only the oldest of all industries, but at times one of the slowest moving; and I do not think that I shall be considered controversial if I say that at times the industry has been very conservative.
However, that is not now the case. As a result of research, technology and the rapidly and ever-widening increase in the range of agricultural machinery which has become available to the farmer today, the picture has changed. It is that development, a development which will increase the dangers in farming, which has produced the very disturbing accident figures which we have heard today.
Much is said by hon. Members from time to time about the drift from the land and my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North (Mr. J. Lindsay) put forward some explanations. Various reasons are given and various comments made: wage rates, housing, amenities, the need for more village halls, more schools, more services, and so forth, the long hours which people employed on the land have to work at certain seasons. The main reason, other than those, is psychological, and it is that of the status of the agricultural worker in our society today.
Our society is predominantly urban and there still persists the idea that the agricultural worker is an unskilled simpleton with an unsophisticated outlook and inferior in some ways to the worker in the towns, and perhaps, in particular, to the workers in heavy industry. Of course, the facts are completely otherwise. The agricultural worker today not only has that sanity of spirit which comes with working with nature and animals and dealing with crops, but is also very often a skilled mechanic and a master of a large number of very complicated techniques.
The Bill gives him for the first time a charter of protection against danger in his work. The fact that it has perhaps been rather long in coming—after all, agriculture is an old industry and, as my 1369 right hon. Friend said, the Gowers Committee reported early in 1949—is a tribute to the good relations existing in the industry, the good common sense and the closeness of master and man in agriculture today.
In the main, this is an enabling Bill and much will depend on the spirit in which its regulations are made. It must always be remembered that the average farm in this country is small and is a family farm. I believe that the average holding is about 80 acres. In my constituency, the vast majority of holdings are well under that figure. They are family farms run by the farmer, his wife, children and, at the outside, one hired man.
That is the background which must control the spirit in which such regulations are made. It is essential that the Government and other authorities concerned should realise that most farmers, and most parents, are adult, responsible people, who are the people who are best suited to decide how to avoid accidents. There is a tendency today for the central authority to act as a sort of universal governess in all spheres of activity, and that tendency will be resented in no place so much as in the countryside, where people are fundamentally independent-minded. The promulgation of unsuitable regulations for universal application, however well intended, could have the most ridiculous results upon individual holdings, which vary so much.
I differ from the right hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) about inspectors. I hope that those inspectors will be allowed to retain the right to grant exemptions. They will know the picture on the ground and local conditions, and I hope that they will be encouraged to use their power to grant exemptions as widely and liberally as practicable.
I can foresee difficulties arising under Clause 2 in drafting suitable regulations concerning the lifting of heavy weights by young persons. It will clearly not be easy to establish a universal limit, because the safe limit varies according to the strength of the individual. When I was farming in Kent I well remember a very famous lady who was, technically, a young person, and whom everybody for miles around came to see perform the feat of lifting 2 cwt. bags at the same 1370 time. For a time she was the most famous person in the area.
Another point I want to make concerns Clause 6. I was very glad to hear the Minister say that he wants to preserve the spirit of keenness for farm work which exists among young children, and I hope that nothing will be done by regulation to scare young children away from farming. I hope that the Minister will reconsider this Clause, because as it stands it will enable regulations to be made which will preclude farmers' children—or any other children—from riding in a horse-drawn farm cart to and from the harvest, and upon other farming occasions.
Children have enjoyed taking part in the harvest and other farming activities, and have been going to and fro in horse-drawn farm carts, for over a thousand years. They have derived great benefits from doing so, and it would be very sad if that were to be prevented. I agree, however, that there should be power to prohibit all joy-riding, and riding upon any vehicle or tractor-drawn implements which are dangerous, in that they are not adapted to take a passenger or a second operator.
As the law now stands the age limit is 13 years, and I believe that may be too high. Every farmer knows that boys below that age may be perfectly capable of driving a tractor upon suitable level, hard ground, and doing a useful job. We must not adopt too much of a town mentality in approaching this problem. I know that my own children, and those of at least one other hon. Member, always drive the tractor at harvest time and perform a very useful job, which they enjoy.
Parents are the right people to decide these matters. I suggest that, with the parents' consent, the age limit may be lowered, at any rate in respect of the children and families of farmers. Some hon. Members may find this suggestion startling, but in putting it forward I have behind me a wide body of opinion among the farming community in my area. I am well aware of the fact that accidents can happen as a result of children riding and sitting upon unsuitable machinery when it is in motion. My own small son, who is under 13 years of age, suffered a very severe injury in this way. It was entirely through the imprudence of a 1371 tractor driver, who allowed him to ride upon a roller which was not adapted for it. That was a pure case of joy-riding— and I entirely agree that such things must be stopped. I am sure the whole farming community will support that proposition.
I am glad the Bill provides that the regulations introduced under it must be "reasonably practicable," and that there must be prior consultation with all the interests concerned. In view of the great lack of uniformity which exists in farming arrangements the House should realise the possible danger of absurd and ridiculous results coming from well-meaning regulations.
When the Bill becomes law I hope that my right hon. Friend will go out of his way to ensure that, before any regulations are made under any heading, a really great effort will be made to operate a voluntary code of conduct as an experiment—a code which can be thrashed out with the representatives of all parties concerned, including agricultural workers, farmers, farm managers and landlords, all of whom are deeply affected by this excellent Bill.
§ 4.58 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
I regard it as a great honour to be given the opportunity on behalf of the House of congratulating the hon. Member for Honiton (Mr. Mathew) on his speech. I had the pleasure of knowing him in a previous incarnation, before he arrived here. That doubles the pleasure I have in giving him the heartiest of welcomes. His was an excellent and knowledgeable speech. At one time after I knew him in his previous incarnation he was employed to defend the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill), and I have no doubt that that defence will continue to be conducted most adequately in this House. I am sure that the hon. Member will also prove to be a very adequate defender of his constituency.
It has been brought to my attention that the hon. Member is the second Old Etonian who has addressed the House as a maiden speaker this afternoon. That has added very considerably to that school's reputation for oratory. I am not sure how high that reputation stood before, but it is certainly higher after this afternoon. The hon. Member's speech seemed to contain all the virtues. It was 1372 very well informed, it was short—and I agreed with it. The only exception I take to it is that it contained all the points which I was going to make.
I agree with the hon. Member that we must remember the infinite variety which exists among agricultural units—which are known to most of us as farms. They vary from the very small to the very large, and from the highly mechanised to the very primitive. I also agree with him that there is every possibility that a great many ridiculous Orders could be promulgated if the Bill were misused.
I cannot help feeling that this is a very remarkable Bill for a Conservative Government to introduce.
§ Mr. Nabarrorose——
§ Mr. Grimond
I thought I should have the support of the hon. Member on this point. He is always frightened of inspectors, forms, and too much Government interference.
§ Mr. Nabarro
Did the hon. Gentleman, for instance, oppose the 1937 Factories Act, and do his Liberal instincts lead him so to adopt laissez faire in all matters of safety, health and welfare that he would oppose any Measure designed to improve the conditions of any section of the working community?
§ Mr. Grimond
Like the Minister, I find the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) rather premature in his interruptions on the one hand, and perhaps rather more senile than I expected in other ways. I was not a Member of Parliament in 1937, and I was not aware that the hon. Gentleman was. I shall not oppose this Bill, but I share the feelings of some hon. Members that it could be a little contrary to the best sentiments of the Minister if it were abused. I wholeheartedly approve of greater safety in industry and agriculture, and there I agree with hon. Members who have spoken in support of the Bill, but there are one or two warnings which will have to be repeated.
This is an enabling Bill. I do not think any hon. Member would deny that when we consider a Bill of that sort we must do so very closely, because hundreds of orders may be made under it and their number may grow very rapidly. Clause 1 (3, h) gives very wide powers indeed without defining how they are to be used. 1373 I regret that the Minister did not tell us a little more about the type of order he expects to make under the Bill and where the obviously necessary distinctions will fall. On the one hand is the big farm, highly mechanised and probably just as dangerous as a factory. If we have that kind of farm in mind nearly all the provisions of the Bill may be necessary and probably could be enforced. On the other hand is the very small farm, where the same sort of regulation would be quite unnecessary and unenforceable. None of us wants the law to be brought into disrepute or to be disregarded. Is it therefore possible to distinguish between those two types of farm? It will be difficult, but it would seem to be necessary if this Bill is to be worth passing.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Niall Macpherson)
May I draw the attention of the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) to Clause 1 (4), which enables such distinctions to be made?
§ Mr. Grimond
I appreciate that, and I have noticed that subsection. I was hoping that the Minister would tell us a little more how subsection (4) was to be applied. There is difficulty in putting into practice this Bill which, although we agree generally on its objects, may either not meet the real dangers of the highly mechanised units in agriculture or may go too far for some of the unmechanised farms. Further, there is a distinction not only between the big farm and the small farm, but between one type of farm and another. For example, a very small holding may be highly mechanised.
I understand that the Bill is the result of very carefully considered consultations with various parts of the industry. We have had the benefit of the Gowers Report and other Reports on this subject. My experience is that, although the National Farmers' Union is a most excellent body in many ways, it does not always take sufficient account of the views of small farmers. There is additional evidence that this is happening just now. I would be interested to know what consultations the Minister has had with the small, unmechanised farms who possibly employ only one man and may be very frightened when they read the terms of the Bill. I hope that the Minister will reassure them that they are not to be asked to carry out all the very wide injunctions which might 1374 be brought to bear by order upon the larger units.
Like the hon. Member for Honiton, I cannot believe that we should make it illegal for children to ride on a hay cart. It is not at all clear that that may not be the effect of the Bill. I grant that there is a genuine difficulty about small children riding on tractors, but my own children have been mixed up with agricultural machinery without ill effects, except perhaps a considerable loss of time to the farmers. They have spent a considerable time playing on and off agricultural buildings and, indeed, machinery.
I would not like to defend the free admittance of children to every sort of agricultural machine, and I can see the objection to small children driving heavy tractors, but it will be the obvious desire of the Minister not to discourage children from taking a keen interest in agriculture. I am not talking about children in employment. The question is how to stop the ordinary child from climbing on to a hay cart, and whether we want to stop it from doing so. It is slightly anomalous that we close the schools and turn children out for the potato harvests but we consider it wrong that they should ride on hay carts.
I agree with the hon. Member that it will be very difficult to devise precise regulations, but I can illustrate the kind of way in which our minds have been working on this matter. There is very little danger to children from riding on an end vehicle, such as a hay cart being towed, but very great danger in riding on the tractor of on the link between the tractor and another vehicle. I hope that we shall always remember those happy and instructive days that all of us have had on farms and in the harvest fields.
§ Mr. Grimond
I am grateful to the Minister for that interruption. That is precisely the information which is very useful as showing the way in which the mind of the Government is moving. It ought to reassure farmers who may read the Bill with a certain amount of suspicion about the way in which it will be implemented.
Sanitation and washing facilities are necessary, but they depend very largely upon a piped water supply. The difficulty is with farms which have not a piped supply. If the provisions of this Bill 1375 are designed to raise the status and improve the conditions of the agricultural worker, these really depend upon a better water supply, better housing and electricity and roads. It will clearly be ridiculous to enforce the same sort of regulation on the small farm in this respect as upon the larger farm because very often the workers on the small farm are treated as part of the family (or their personal friends) and spend the day with the farmer. On the other hand, there are some problems which are not indicated in the Bill. There is in Scotland the old bothy system, which has many defects and which I am inclined to think is getting out of date, but——
§ Mr. Grimond
There are some very well-informed hon. Members here in regard to this subject. It was a system, a very good system in some ways, by which agricultural labour used to live in part of the farmhouse. But I think most people will agree the conditions under which they live are not always highly satisfactory. I do not know how these will be affected under this Bill, but it is a point which, I think, might well be borne in mind.
Like other hon. Members, I agree with the principles of the Bill, but there are these two points which I want to put again. We are not really meeting the needs of the country districts which require better living conditions, and a great deal of the need for this Bill would disappear if they had better conditions. Secondly, I think that the House of Commons should look carefully at a Bill which gives the widest power, not only to this Government, but to any future Government, to bring in regulations to an industry which is so diverse. We all know quite well that it will be extremely difficult to draft regulations which will 1376 meet what we have in mind without putting a burden on small farmers which at present they cannot support, or making the law appear rather ridiculous.
§ 5.11 p.m.
§ Mr. William Whitelaw (Penrith and The Border)
While I agree with a great deal that has been said by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond), I do not in any way share his surprise about the introduction of this Bill. It is in every way entirely in accordance with what I should expect. The Conservative Party has always shown interest in the health and welfare of all those who work, wherever it may be. I think that the hon. Gentleman realises that very well. I support very strongly the introduction of the Bill.
Today, our agricultural industry has the benefit of modern machinery and valuable scientific discoveries, but these cannot be fully employed unless it can attract the best type of highly-skilled labour. Therefore, everything that can be done to improve the lot of those who work on the land would be of great value This Bill sets out to do that.
As many hon. Members have said, there are difficulties in its way, and it is extremely difficult to put the Factories Acts into application on farms, but nevertheless the Government have made the attempt—I believe a most valuable attempt—and therefore I wholeheartedly support the principles of the Bill. As the use of complicated agricultural machinery has increased, there has inevitably been a serious rise in the accident rate. I believe that my right hon. Friend can reverse this trend by the regulations which he is empowered to issue under this Bill.
I am particularly pleased to see that the need for safety regulations in the management of animals has not been forgotten. I apologise to my right hon. Friend for having taken up that point, but it is one upon which I feel very strongly. It has always seemed to me that far too many accidents are caused by bulls, particularly bulls of the dairy breed. Surely they are caused because the people who handle them will not treat them with the respect which they deserve.
I believe that no human being should ever be left alone in a box with an untied or unsecured mature bull of any of the dairy breeds. We all know that 1377 that has frequently been done. To my mind it shows a scant respect for the nature of the animal, and I do not consider that fully-grown bulls should be allowed to graze, particularly in partly-fenced fields near main roads and paths. That is pure folly. I hope that the safety regulations issued in that respect will be strict.
I have somewhat different feelings about the regulations for buildings. I listened with great care to what the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion) said on this subject. I cannot agree with what he said about the expenditure by landlords on their fixed equipment. I think that he will agree, if he looks into the figures, that they prove in recent years to be very much the opposite of what he said. Nevertheless, many of our farm buildings are old. We cannot help that—neither the landlord, the owner-occupier or anyone else—and it would cost a great deal of money, as we all appreciate, to comply with any strict provision in order to make them accident-proof. It would probably be almost impossible to do so in many instances. In any event, the large amount of money which would have to be spent in order to do so might well be out of all proportion to the small risks involved in many cases.
I have similar feelings about the sanitary provisions. In principle, they are both valuable and necessary, but, in practice, I, on this occasion like the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland, feel that we might be in great danger of putting the cart before the horse. That is particularly true of the isolated rural districts, because I am sure that hon. Members will agree that in those districts the greatest need is the provision of basic, modern amenities.
It is not only decent houses but piped water supplies, proper sewerage, electricity and reasonable communications which are required, and if we consider the welfare of the people who live and work in those districts, then surely it is our job to see that their basic welfare needs are met first. I should hate to see one of the Fellside farmers in my constituency directed under the provisions of this Bill to install a lavatory before he had been able to obtain, hard as he had tried to do so, a piped water supply.
1378 At the same time, many farmers and farm workers will tell one today that their greatest need is electricity. That is not surprising in my constituency, because the North-West Electricity Board, in its last report, stated there were still some 3,480 farms to be connected with electricity in its Lakeland sub-area alone. It would be most unfair to such farmers to instruct them by this Bill to spend money at the very moment when the Electricity Board has dashed once again their hopes of an early electricity supply because it has made, in my view, far too heavy cuts in its capital expenditure on rural electrification. I believe that these cuts are far in excess of what the Board has been instructed to do by the Government.
I agree with what has been said by many hon. Members that safety measures are necessary for children. On the other hand, my children, like those of the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland, ride on carts. They certainly do not drive tractors. That is where I stand in the matter. Provision of first-aid boxes is also of great value, but they will be of value, as the Minister has said, only if those who install them keep them conspicuously marked and ready for use at all times.
I support wholeheartedly the principles of the Bill, but anyone representing a constituency like mine is bound to stress to the House that a great deal of hard work requires to be done and much money spent before the primary welfare requirements of basic modern amenities have been fully met in the isolated rural districts. I hope that when the Bill becomes law, it will be administered at all times according to the wise principle—first things first.
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North)
I shall not allow the flamboyant inaccuracies in the introductory remarks of the speech of the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) to prevent me from paying my tribute to this very useful Measure. I am very glad to see that it is not unduly complex, but I must say that this, in itself, seems to indicate that the Government have been somewhat dilatory in bringing it to the House. I think that we owe a lot to my hon. Friend the Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies) for raising the subject when he was successful in the Ballot. We 1379 are also very lucky that the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food deputised for the Home Secretary on that occasion. At any rate, arising directly from that discussion, we now have this Bill which should improve things considerably for agricultural workers.
What we are doing is, in itself, important. We are trying to avoid those accidents which are avoidable. As the Gowers Report shows, there are only two Acts of Parliament specifically providing for safety in agriculture and both of them are obsolete because they have no adequate means of enforcement. The Gowers Report comments that… had proper enforcement been possible a number of accidents would undoubtedly have been prevented.That means that in a number of cases we would have avoided the sense of frustration, the feeling of deprivation—and very often hardship—that accompanies an industrial accident. If, by means of the regulations which will result when this Bill becomes law, we can avoid any accidents we shall have contributed to the happiness of many families.
This Measure is important, not only because it will help to avoid particular accidents, but because, in a limited way, it will help to improve the status of agriculture, and that is something which we have to treat very seriously. The drift from the land remains very disturbing, and anything we can do to improve the safety and conditions in agriculture and so make it more attractive to people in the countryside is very much to be welcomed.
I have only one or two comments to make on the Bill in anticipation of the discussion that we may have in Committee. Everyone concedes that it is best to tackle a job such as this through regulations. We do not now have the outcry about delegated legislation——
§ Mr. Willey
Though I gather from the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) that he will have something to say about that later on—but we do not now pay very much attention to that sort of agitation.
We accept the fact that regulations are the best and most practical way of dealing with a matter like this, but before I put this point——
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Charles MacAndrew)
If the hon. Member wishes to speak, this is the wrong way to go about it. This is the fourth time that he has attempted to interrupt.
§ Mr. Willey
The point I was about to put was this. The Minister provides, and very properly provides for consultation, but I wonder whether he would look at the possibility of providing for an advisory committee? It is no secret that there will quite properly be different points of view about some of the regulations and their application. Experience has shown that in such matters as this it is far better to have an advisory committee, with the two sides discussing the problem and trying to resolve their difficulties.
§ Major H. Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
If the hon. Member looks at Clause 16 (2) he will see that the Minister is thereby under the obligation to consult those organisations which he thinks are most likely to give him the best advice.
§ Mr. Willey
I have conceded that the subsection provides for consultation. I am asking the Minister whether it would not be better to provide for an advisory committee. The consultation will often be consultation with different interests, and I am suggesting—and this has been done with success in similar Measures—that where in many cases consultation is likely to lead to different points of view, it is better to provide an opportunity for common discussion and, if possible, common advice to the Minister.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
May I ask who the hon. Member suggests would form the advisory body? Does he suggest that it should be formed of the same people that the Minister would be under obligation to consult?
§ Mr. Willey
Yes, precisely the same people. The practical point I am putting is that as it is quite possible different points of view will be taken by the bodies consulted, there is some advantage in providing for an advisory committee so that the different bodies may be fully cognisant of their different points of view and endeavour to resolve them. I think that in a Measure such as this that would probably help. The right hon. Gentleman has the difficulty of deciding what regulations 1381 are best, and if he has only to consult the various bodies, different and conflicting advice may be tendered to him.
§ Mr. Niall Macpherson
The hon. Member will appreciate that there is nothing in the Bill to prevent an advisory committee being set up. May I therefore take it that what he is suggesting is a statutory advisory committee?
§ Mr. Willey
At the moment I am only raising this point, because I know that the right hon. Gentleman is well aware of this problem. I am asking him to consider it in this instance, and also asking him if he thinks that an advisory committee, whether or not in statutory form, would help in the administration of this Measure.
Enforcement is very germane to any regulation and, with my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) I feel that we should again look at the question of who is to enforce the regulations. As far as I remember the recommendation of the Gowers Committee was that it should be done by thetechnical officers of the Ministry.I doubt whether at present, the Minister is going as wide as this.
We are all particularly concerned with the mechanisation and electrification of the agricultural industry, though it seems to me that we are almost getting to the stage where we now provide two machines to do the job of one wherever we can. But it is common ground that we have had a really rapid mechanisation which is, by and large, desirable. I should therefore have thought that we should try to associate with enforcement those technical officers who are concerned with the scientific side of agriculture and to see whether it is not possible to vest in some of them inspectorate powers and whether, at the same time, we ought not, consciously and deliberately, to encourage more directly research into safety devices on agricultural machinery.
I mention enforcement mainly because I take the view, as I hope we all do, that education is much better than enforcement. I believe that in many of these cases, provided the dangers are widely appreciated and the steps necessary to avoid them are widely known, then to the greatest possible extent the danger will be avoided.
1382 Another comment I would make is upon the fact that the initiative in regard to sanitary conveniences lies with the sanitary authorities whereas the initiative regarding washing facilities lies with the Minister. My hon. Friends may take a different view from me about sanitary authorities in some of the rural areas, but I think—and I am glad that the Sanitary Inspectors' Association agrees with me on this, although I took this view before I knew that it was also its view—that, on balance, both those matters are better left to the sanitary authorities. We should not have this division of responsibility. The responsibility for sanitary conveniences and washing facilities should be that of the local sanitary authority. If that is so, I agree wholeheartedly with my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley that default powers should lie with the Minister.
About the machinery for enforcing the regulations, I feel that it would be far better—and I say this with great respect—to avoid referring this matter to the magistrates' courts. We are too apt nowadays to place the burden of taking a decision where, in the nature of things, it is extremely difficult to take a fair and proper decision. I would prefer—and I know this is very much open to criticism—that the Minister, if possible, should have default powers, or, alternatively, that he should be allowed to decide appeals. In other words, if the decision lay with the sanitary authority, an appeal should lay with the Minister. I say that notwithstanding Crichell Down.
We have established in many Departments of State nowadays people who judicially or semi-judicially take decisions and thereby create standards. It is quite impossible to ask one magistrates' court to decide a case which happens to be referred to them, and then to ask another magistrate's court, perhaps a hundred miles away, to decide another and expect the same criteria. If these matters are referred to the right hon. Gentleman, I am sure that we can be satisfied not only that there will be a fair and equitable decision, but that we can get a common standard— I do not mean an equal standard throughout the country—allowing for the differences between different units and different localities.
Those were the only points I wished to raise upon the Bill. As the Gowers Committee Report says, no Act can afford 1383 the agricultural worker the same safeguards as those enjoyed by other workers in other industries. This, unfortunately, is true. It is another aspect in which this industry is prejudiced in the competition between agriculture and other industries in the light of full employment. What we have got to do is not only what we are doing today—to take every step where possible to avoid accidents where they can be avoided—but, as a national responsibility—to ensure that agriculture has a higher status than it enjoys today.
§ 5.33 p.m.
§ Mrs. Evelyn Emmet (East Grinstead)
It is difficult at this stage not to be repetitive, and I do not want to weary the House in that respect, but perhaps I may make three observations which have still not been sufficiently accentuated. First, I find myself in agreement with the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) with respect to the necessity for education, and I rather fear that we may rely, in this Bill, too much on putting things right through the Legislature, through rules and regulations, rather than by training and education.
An hon. Member has already said that a farm is quite different from a factory where the machines can be kept under constant observation, whereas on a farm a man may take a complicated machine to a far-distant field, out of sight. If that man is careful and conscientious, he will use that machine carefully and conscientiously. If he is witless or careless, he will use that machine accordingly. No amount of legislation will make a difference in that man's character, whereas education and training might very well do so. I hope that, as the Bill proceeds, a little more emphasis will be put on that aspect, where I feel it is very necessary.
Turning to the Clause dealing with inspectors, I would express the hope that we shall not establish a new body of inspectors. I know that the Minister has said that he has a body of inspectors who can be used for this purpose, but that body will undoubtedly have to be enlarged and trained, and I can see it growing very rapidly into a costly service. I should like the regulations to be enforced in the countryside by the use of local authority officers for different purposes. I do not see why officers and inspectors of weights and measures should 1384 not be trained in the requirements of the Factories Acts, so that they can deal with the machinery side of the matter, nor do I see why the sanitary inspectors should not deal completely with all the sanitary requirements. So far as children are concerned, I think that the village policeman could very well be brought into the picture.
I should think there is scarcely a farm in the country where there is no knowledge of first-aid, owing to war training, but the question whether there should be a first-aid box is one of great practical difficulty. My own view is that such a box had better stay centrally either in a farm building or in the farm house. I do not think there is any use in having a key. It would be lost very quickly. The contents of the box should be inspected monthly by the employer.
I should prefer the issue of a small first-aid pack to workers who are using complicated machinery during the harvest time. It should be their own personal issue, for which they would be completely responsible, and it would be so small that they could carry it on their persons so that they would not lose it, instead of putting it into the front pocket of a tractor.
I feel very strongly on the provision affecting children. My own four children were brought up on tractors; they have all survived, and one of them is a farmer. We must bear in mind that there is nothing at the moment to prohibit a child of whatever age learning to drove a car on a private road. It seems to me that it would be strange to put this question of tractor driving on a different footing, because, in my view, the tractor is much safer in a child's hands than a car is.
That part of the Bill should be interpreted with very great care, and we should keep a sense of proportion about this matter of accidents. The right hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) said, to my great surprise—I thought it was a much higher figure—that only 20 children were killed on the farms—I imagine during the course of twelve months. I looked up the figures for casualties affecting children both on the roads and at home. Last year 11,807 children under fifteen on bicycles were injured and 118 were killed. On the roads 45,515 were injured, 703 fatally. In the home, which is far more dangerous for 1385 a child—far more dangerous than the farm or harvest field—794 children were killed.
We should be sensible about this matter. Parents have certain responsibilities towards their children, and we should not remove those responsibilities. I think we should put a certain responsibility on the employers, too, but I should not like to go very much beyond that, because I am afraid that if we put the regulations and the Bill into effect in a drastic way we shall not only hamper the freedom of farm life but also add greatly to the cost of food production
§ 5.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Sidney Dye (Norfolk, South-West)
I have listened to the debate with great interest. It seemed to me that when the Minister had introduced the Bill and my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Wiliams) had spoken, they had said nearly all there was to be said about the Bill. I notice that my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion) strayed into a discussion on farm buildings and their reconstruction. Apparently, he has not seen as many of the new and reconstructed buildings as I have, as otherwise he would not have come to the conclusion that very little is being done. In recent years far more has been done in the reconstruction of farm buildings and the erection of new farm buildings than at any other similar period in the history of the country. We are making headway.
I was interested in the speech of the hon. Lady the Member for East Grinstead (Mrs. Emmet). It was a practical speech by a mother of four children, and she told us that they had all been brought up on the farm and that none had come to any harm. That is our general experience. I speak as one who was brought up on a farm from my earliest days. I worked there as a child. This morning, before I left, I fed the fowls and did a few other jobs. I speak as a practical man and as one of a very large family, all of whom were brought up on the farm among the pigs, cows, horses and the other animals.
It is a fact that those who are brought up on the farm are the least prone to accidents. It is those who come from London and who dash about the farm on holiday who get into trouble. Of course, they may not all come from London; 1386 some come from other towns and cities. They have not a ghost of sense about safety or responsibility, and they run about wild in the country.
In my younger days there were very many boys employed on the farms in Norfolk. I support the Bill and take a lively interest in it, but I must say, after over 50 years' experience, that I have never witnessed a serious accident on a farm. Others may have done so, and I have seen people who have lost fingers in accidents, but I have never seen a serious accident occur. I am not using this as an argument against the Bill, but am merely pointing out that I agree with the hon. Lady that the most important factor is the attitude which people develop as they grow up. Some are prone to accidents on the farm, in the factory, at home, or anywhere else. Others develop a lively common-sense attitude and have an idea of the danger in the work with which they are associated and of how to guard against it.
Much more important than legislation is the training of people in that attitude in life. We cannot continue with the slaughter which takes place on the road every year. Last year was the worst ever. These accidents are often due to people's attitude and not always to the mechanical vehicles which they are riding or driving or to the roads themselves. It is very largely because of deficiencies in people's attitude and aptitude that accidents occur.
I commend, in addition to the Bill, those activities which are taking shape in agricultural areas, such as the machinery clubs and classes run by the local education authority giving courses in such matters as tractor maintenance and care. We shall do far more good by developing such types of activity and interest than by trying to legislate against those who, because of their lack of education and experience, can, despite the best advice, misuse the implements which are given to them.
Such activities as the machinery clubs, the stockmen's clubs and the local education authorities' classes dealing with the techniques of agriculture are of the greatest possible value, and I was very much surprised at my county council meeting recently when members criticised the council's expenditure on such clubs. I think that they are of real value and 1387 that if we pay more attention to such activities we shall get better results and happier people.
One of the chief causes of death on the farm is, I suppose, the use of firearms. A tragic case occurred a year or two ago when a man working on a combine took a gun and left it on the cart ready to shoot rabbits. The farmer's son and the farmer went on to the combine and while they were there the son was killed. It would be very much to the point if we made it an offence for anybody to take a firearm on to any working tractor or combine or other such vehicle being used in the harvest field. I see no reference to that in the Bill and it would be as good a point to include in the Bill as any. I am amazed at the way in which people do that kind of thing. It should be drawn to their attention that it is an offence to take firearms on to such vehicles. The fact that myxomatosis has almost wiped out the rabbits might discourage them from taking guns, but there may still be some rabbits or hares about so that guns are taken out for that purpose.
Another point not included in the Bill, and which needs some safeguard, arises in the building of stacks, particularly straw stacks. The old system whereby loose straw came from the threshing tackle to the straw pitcher is well known and people have been skilled at stacking by this method for generations. They can also handle the tightly pressed bales and stack them reasonably well. There is another system in use now, however, which we call bunching; it is not tightly packed straw, and the stacking of such bunches of straw is a dangerous occupation because, not being firm, they are liable to tilt or slip outwards and a person operating on the top, by merely setting his foot on what he thinks is a firm foundation, can slip and suffer a fatal accident. There is no special provision in the Bill for regulations dealing with that type of thing.
It was brought to my notice a year or two ago, when threshing operations were taking place in a field during the winter. One man was stacking bunches of straw and the others were doing their work. Suddenly somebody noticed that poor old George, who had been stacking bunches, was no longer on the stack. After a while, someone went to look for him and found that a bunch of straw had given way and 1388 that he had fallen on to his head. He was taken to hospital and died within a day or two. No one saw the accident happen, and at the coroner's inquest no one could give a description of what happened.
With regard to Clause 8, I think there should be an obligation whenever an accident takes place on the farm and has fatal results to anyone concerned that the inspectors should visit the scene as soon as possible—before the coroner's inquest—in the same way as when an accident occurs on the roads police visit the spot. They then draw sketches and take measurements and so place before the coroner and the jury a description of the scene which helps them to piece together the evidence. In the same way the coroner might be helped if an inspector could visit the scene of an accident on a farm and give a proper description.
I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) that a representative of the man's trade union should be present at the inquest and have the right to ask questions of witnesses. From my experience in relation to inquests following accidents in Norfolk, that would be a desirable provision to include in the Bill.
I noticed what was said by an hon. Member about dangerous bulls. I agree that there should be regulations about the handling, feeding, housing and exercising of such animals and that the work should not be left to one man alone.
Someone asked who would be qualified and able to administer first-aid in the case of accidents on the farm. Quite obviously, on most farms that person would be the farmer's wife. She does most of that work now—she ties up a cut finger, and so on. Most farmers' wives are very capable at that kind of thing and are nearly always on the spot when required.
Sanitary arrangements are not so important on small farms, but are of great importance where gang labour is employed. There is no question that there should be regulations for proper sanitary arrangements where both men and women are employed in gangs in fruit farming, or any other type of farming. There should be proper facilities for washing the hands and so on. It seems ridiculous that the local sanitary inspector and the local authority should be responsible for sanitary arrangements 1389 and an inspector from some other department responsible for wash basins and provision of running water. That responsibility should be put fairly and squarely on the local health authority, which should be asked to include a paragraph in the annual report of the medical officer and the sanitary inspector showing what steps have been taken in the district for carrying out the provisions of such a Measure as this.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
Would the hon. Member consider this point? If his suggestion were followed it would mean that there would be two authorities responsible for the washing facilities on dairy farms because, under the attestation rules for a herd, there have to be washing facilities for the men doing the milking, and that comes under the Ministry. Therefore, there would be a double authority responsible for the same thing.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
I am sorry to interrupt again, but I think that the hon. Member has missed the point I made. It is simply whether for washing facilities there should be two authorities, not whether there should be an authority for sanitary arrangements and one for washing arrangements, because the Ministry is the supervising authority for washing arrangements.
§ 5.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Kenneth Pickthorn (Carlton)
I have to begin by asking forgiveness of the House as I have an engagement not very far off. I hope that if I am not present for all or most of the second half of the debate most hon. Members who notice it will do me the justice of saying it is not one of my habitual offences.
As I do ask for that indulgence, I must be very brief and as little controversial 1390 as I can be. I must say how glad I was to hear the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Dye) explaining, out of the depth of his experience, which everyone in this House respects, that the great mass of human unhappiness comes from original sin and is not manageable by legislation.
The one point I want to say a word about, and if it is controversial it is only as between back bench and the Front Bench and not between the two sides of the House—at least I hope not—arises on Clauses 16 and 17. I have every welcome for the substantive Clauses of the Bill—for their purposes and, as far as I can gather at this stage, for their details and for their form—but those machinery Clauses I think ought to arouse questions in the minds of back benchers on both sides of the House.
I think that wherever a Bill proposes to give powers to a Minister to legislate by delegation the House should begin with some question in its mind and that, particularly, it should have a question in its mind when the proposition is that the control of the House over such delegated legislation should only be by negative procedure, as under Clauses 16 and 17. I think that a third reason why, in this particular case, we should warn the Minister that it will require some defence—this arrangement for Clauses 16 and 17—is that in the nature of the case, as the Minister has indicated, those regulations necessarily and largely will be unforeseeable—that is on the face of the Bill and was indicated in the speech of the Minister—secondly, that they will be variable, they will be regulations which will have to change with the designs of machinery, and so on, and even at a given time will have to vary as between one kind of farm and another kind of farm.
The Minister himself really made my point for me when he explained with some elaboration that he had had very full consultation with what he called the interests and would have full consultations with the interests before he drafted regulations. I hoped he was going on to explain at that stage what he regarded as the function of the House of Commons in this matter, but that bit he left out.
The more it was necessary for there to be Ministerial consultation with the interests before the Bill was introduced, the more it is necessary now, before the 1391 regulations are introduced, the stronger is the argument fox the view, which, until it is rebutted, I think all back benchers ought to hold, that such regulations should require the positive assent of the House.
After all, Parliament in the English sense, as contrasted with the French sense, was invented precisely to prevent the Crown from managing business by consultation with separate interests, and to make it necessary for the Crown to carry with it in its most important decisions a body which represented, not any one interest, but all of them put together. That, I think, is a fair, short way of putting the historical essence of Parliament.
With regulations of this kind, with their variability and unforeseeability, there is a weight of responsibility upon Ministers to show that they need the negative procedure. I do not complain that so far there has been no attempt whatever to discharge that onus of proof. In my submission, the House ought to insist upon changing to the positive procedure unless that onus is discharged by Ministers either today or at a later stage of the Bill.
§ 6.2 p.m.
§ Mr. E. L. Mallalieu (Brigg)
At this late stage in the debate, I shall not occupy more than a very few minutes with what I have to say. In fact, I can imagine very few Bills on which the ratio between the number of words necessary to commend them and the importance of the Bills is so small. Very few words are necessary to commend this Bill, and it has a very considerable importance.
I realise that many hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond), seem to think that there would be considerable difficulty in drawing up the regulations which we are giving the Minister power to draw up under the Bill. In effect, that is really all we are doing. We are giving him power to legislate on these matters. The hon. Gentleman seemed to think that because farms varied so much—even in the same locality the differences are very great—it was impossible, or, at any rate, extremely difficult, to make regulations fit the case.
In my submission, it is always difficult to legislate for a wide variety of circumstances but, surely, we need not make 1392 things more difficult by imagining that in this instance the Minister will have to legislate for individual farms. In the regulations which he draws up and which we shall have to approve, he will surely have to legislate for conditions.
It may well be that on modern farms, with the up-to-date buildings to which my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Dye) has just referred, there are not the creaky, rickety ladders going up to lofts about which we heard earlier in the debate. But that is no reason for not legislating for where they do exist. Of course, if they do not exist on a certain farm, the legislation will not apply to that farm, at least until they do exist. Because there are not very expensive, elaborate, large and dangerous pieces of machinery on certain farms, that is no reason at all for not legislating about those pieces of machinery on farms where they do exist. Therefore, it is conditions, not individual farms, for which the right hon. Gentleman will have to legislate, and I wish him luck in his attempts to legislate for those conditions.
In passing, I cannot imagine anyone else—at any rate, on the other side of the House—whom I would sooner have legislating on matters of this sort. Agriculture is notoriously difficult to fit into any straitjacket and, if even a shadow of a straitjacket were contemplated, I would sooner have the right hon. Gentleman fitting it than anyone else on the benches opposite.
My hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West referred to the machinery and stockmen's clubs which he has seen working. These things are highly admirable and I should not have the least doubt about them, but if we were to carry the logic of my hon. Friend's argument to its conclusion and consider these things sufficient, we should not be legislating at all for factories at any time.
§ Mr. Mallalieu
My hon. Friend says "No," and I am sure that he did not mean that. That was the logic of his argument, even if he did not mean it. We must try to legislate for all the varied conditions in factories and on farms. I have no hesitation in congratulating the Minister on having persuaded his colleagues to allow him the time of the House to do this.
1393 I know that one should not be too controversial on agricultural matters and that I rather tend to put my foot into it on the matter of party controversy in agriculture, but it might not be out of the way for someone on this side of the House to raise his eyebrows slightly about the manner in which hon. and right hon. Members opposite are now prepared to have legislation put on the Statute Book which involves the signing of more forms and the giving of more notifications by poor unfortunate farmers.
Can we possibly forget, when a Labour Government happened to be in power, the extremely childish way in which hon. Members opposite went round the country screaming about the forms which had to be filled in? When every cricket club which sends out an application for membership has to send a form, a form means nothing at all. It is only unpleasant, apparently, if it is caused by a Labour Government. Anyhow, here we have a piece of legislation which asks for records to be kept by the unfortunate farmer, who will have more clerical work to do, filling in forms and giving notifications. On this occasion I am entirely in agreement with hon. Members opposite in thinking that it is necessary and desirable that these forms should be filled in by the farmer or employer, whoever it may be in this instance.
I congratulate the Minister on bringing forward the Bill. We ought also to congratulate that wonderful body, the National Union of Agricultural Workers, for the quite extraordinary work it has done in the countryside during the last few years urging that a Bill like this should be brought forward. I am sure that the union, although I have no right to speak for it, will be more pleased perhaps than anybody that the Bill is now on its way to the Statute Book.
§ 6.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Gerald Nabarro (Kidderminster)
I wish to join with a number of hon. and right hon. Members in all parts of the House who have accorded a welcome to the general principles of this Measure. I do so as well, although with certain important reservations. They are not necessarily reservations in connection with matters that have already been referred to during our deliberations this afternoon.
1394 First, it cannot be doubted that when the provisions of this Measure are fully implemented, which may well take a number of years, there will be placed upon the shoulders of the farmers a considerable additional burden of cost. That is inescapable in respect of all legislative proposals for the improvement of health, safety and welfare in any industry. For instance, the passage of the 1937 Factories Act led to substantial expenditure over a wide range of industries. I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to this point today because it has special significance in the case of agriculture.
The cost of production in agriculture, for the Review commodities, is subject to an annual Price Review. The Price Review this year is at present being conducted and I have no doubt that Sir James Turner and his friends in the National Farmers' Union will be negotiating with my right hon. Friend over the whole field of the cost of agricultural production. When replying to this debate, can my right hon. Friend give an assurance that any costs in future years which arise from health, safety and welfare provisions within this Bill and in any regulations that may be made by him under it, will form an admissible charge for the purpose of computing the cost of production of Review commodities, on the occasion of future Price Reviews? That is, in my opinion, a very important aspect of what we are considering today.
§ Mr. J. T. Price
I agree that it would be permissible to consider that aspect of the matter, but surely any additional expenditure would be regarded by the Treasury as an expense allowable against tax liability?
§ Mr. Nabarro
Yes, the hon. Gentleman is undoubtedly correct, but he is not so altruistic as to believe that taxes have yet reached 100 per cent. They are now at a total level of approximately 50 per cent. for farms, under a Tory Government. Under the previous Socialist Government they reached the exorbitant level of 70 per cent. We have now succeeded in bringing them down to 50 per cent. My point is that any costs arising under this Bill should undoubtedly, be admissible as a part of the cost of production of the Review commodities, and that such costs should be taken into account gross, that 1395 is, before the accounts of the farmer concerned are subjected to the scrutiny of the inspector of taxes.
Secondly, a number of speakers on the other side of the House have suggested that the principles of this Measure are inimical to Conservative philosophy. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond), in particular, made an assertion of that kind. I think that the Bill is of particular significance for all Conservatives. A Conservative Administration was responsible for the Factories Act, 1937, which covers health, safety and welfare measures in a very wide range of manufacturing industries. A Conservative Administration was responsible for the Mines and Quarries Act in the lifetime of the last Parliament, and that Act provided for health, safety and welfare measures to protect workers in the mines and in the quarries.
The only part of productive and extractive industry in this country which has not been covered in recent years, for health, safety and welfare purposes, by a Conservative Administration was the agricultural industry. I am pleased to note, therefore, that today an important trinity of progressive, social legislation is accomplished by the Conservative Party: the Factories Act, 1937; the Mines and Quarries Act, 1954; and now this Bill which, I hope, will become an Act within the present Session.
Thirdly, my right hon. Friend and, more especially, the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Nugent), who, in the last Parliament, was in the same post he holds now, will recall my lengthy correspondence on the subject of safety measures on certain fixed types, that is, non-mobile or static types, of agricultural machinery. I mention a constituency case today because I want to jolt very severely a number of hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House who have said that regulations that are brought in under the provisions of this Measure should not follow generally the pattern of Factories Act regulations. That, in my opinion, so far as fixed machinery is concerned, is a fallacious approach to the matter.
A few years ago a very grave accident, which resulted in a fatality, took place in western Worcestershire, in my constituency, and drew my attention, as a result 1396 of the investigations into the accident, to the very serious deficiencies in the state of the law. I will relate very briefly, what occurred. A hop-picking machine, which, for the benefit of hon. Gentlemen who have not seen one, I should mention is a machine that stretches probably two-thirds of the distance between the doors of this Chamber, and is, possibly, 15 ft. wide and possibly 20 ft. high, a very large piece of mechanical equipment costing many thousands of pounds, was installed in a shed on a site a few hundred yards from a large hop-yard. At the time of the hops harvest, in October, a number of temporary workers are generally brought in from towns in the district.
It so happened that one of the temporary workers in the hops shed, who had come from Ludlow a few miles away, was engaged in the unskilled process of picking extraneous matter from the hops as they travelled over the conveyor rollers to their destination in various receptacles at the end of the machine. The woman had been previously warned that she should wear a cap or a hat. She had disregarded those warnings. She leaned over the machine to extract something from the rollers. A single strand of her hair caught in one of the rollers. Within the twinkling of an eye she was scalped. She was taken to hospital, and died the next morning.
That type of accident was very common in factories in this country a hundred years ago, as my right hon. Friend will know. As the result of nineteenth century factories legislation, that type of accident has now almost disappeared. I heard of this accident; I took special steps to acquaint myself with what took place at the coroner's inquest. The coroner was aghast, as all of us were, on reading the details, and the coroner sent to the factory inspector for the area, to take his advice. He asked him, in effect—I use my own words, and I am not quoting now the exact words—"Why were the rollers on the machine not guarded, as they should be in any workshop accommodating machinery of this type?"
The factory inspector's reply was, "The shed in which this hop-picking machine was accommodated and working is not a workshop within the meaning of the 1937 Factories Act." The coroner immediately asked, "But is there no Act of Parliament which requires that pieces of machinery of this kind shall adequately 1397 be guarded?" The factory inspector replied, "So far as I am concerned, sir, I can speak only for workshops within the Factories Act."
That coroner, for the benefit of all interested parties, gained, by question and answer on that occasion, the information that not only was there no legislation in existence, no regulations that required that large and complicated agricultural machinery of the hop-picking type should be adequately guarded, but that no action could be taken against the owners or the operators of a machine to ensure that in future the machine should be properly guarded in a manner generally similar to that required under the Factories Act, 1937.
I cite that case as an example, because it must be apparent in all parts of the House that, as a result of the degree of mechanisation that has occurred within the agricultural industry during the last few years, there are large numbers of fixed and static machines of the hop-picking type, of the grass-drying type, and associated machinery, installed in permanent workshops. All this, I suggest, must be made the subject of the most stringent regulations within this Measure, that is, by Clause I, to ensure that guards, fencing and safety measures are achieved at least up to standards for static agricultural machinery, comparable with those already achieved in general manufacturing industry.
My fourth point is one, I believe, which has not yet been mentioned in the debate, namely, circular saws operated on farms. There is hardly a farm, large or small, in the United Kingdom where there is not at least one circular saw. I hope that my right hon. Friend will again bear in mind the Factories Act, which is most stringent in this connection. Any hon. Member who has had experience either of using or of being responsible for the operation of a circular saw will know that the factory inspector says without reservation that it is one of the most dangerous machine tools regularly in use. It is so dangerous that it is often quipped that no man is a fully equipped or fully qualified sawyer unless he has one or more fingers off one or more of his hands.
The regulations of the Factories Act require, simply and efficiently, that the whole of that part of the circular saw which operates beneath the table or bench 1398 must be totally enclosed, that the overhead guard on the saw must at all times be lowered into a position closest possible to the teeth of the revolving saw, and that there shall always be a riving knife behind the saw in order to separate and open up the timber as it passes through.
These are elementary precautions, taken in factories and workshops and covered by regulations within general factories' legislation, notably the 1937 Act. Today, in spite of the tens of thousands of circular saws operating on farms, no regulation requires that a circular saw operated on a farm or smallholding shall have even the most crude and simple guards attached to it.
The countryman indulges in a rudimentary form of fuel efficiency by going round the countryside collecting up pieces of wood for conversion into winter logs. I have been horrified sometimes to find a circular saw operating in a farm in winter months without any guard below the bench, with no overhead guard and no riving knife, the saw being attached to a tractor pulley by belting, or independent engine or perhaps direct to the electricity mains. There is often a unskilled man pushing a piece of wood of irregular shape and design against the revolving circular saw, when the slightest slip of hand or foot might result in perhaps the whole of his hand or several of his fingers being cut off. In view of the ubiquitous character of the circular saw on farms in this country, I believe that type of machinery should form the subject of special regulations under a separate head.
I should like to say a few words about electricity on farms, a subject which has been alluded to in many earlier speeches. As the right hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) said, there are about 360,000 farms and smallholdings in the United Kingdom, spread over 62 counties. At this date, probably about 175,000 of these farms are served with electricity. My right hon. Friend the Minister does not record in his analysis of accidents, in the latest year to which he alluded, the number of accidents or percentage caused by electricity on farms. He says that 46 per cent. of all accidents occurring arose from machinery, 17 per cent. were caused by falls and 9 per cent. by animals, and 28 per cent. arose from other causes.
1399 I suggest to my right hon. Friend that as mechanisation and electrification expand and become near universal on farms it will be necessary for him to consider issuing special electricity regulations as applied to farms. If he does not propose to do that, may the House know how he proposes to deal with accidents arising from farm electrification? Regulations of that kind have been issued for the general use of manufacturing industry in the past, and are still extant, but they are not in any way applicable to farms and the user of agricultural machines.
With these few points, all specialised in character but I believe of importance to the main theme, I conclude by telling my right hon. Friend that I give his Measure my warmest support and approval. It is in the interest of the agricultural community. It should lead in due time to an expansion of agricultural production which is, indeed, a laudable objective and one which I am sure is supported by most hon. and right hon. Members on both sides of the House.
§ 6.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Moyle (Oldbury and Halesowen)
I welcome the Bill and congratulate the Minister on being the first to make a contribution towards the realisation of the Gowers Committee's recommendations. I sincerely hope that the Home Secretary will gather courage from the right hon. Gentleman's noble example and be expeditious in submitting his Bill to implement the Committee's other recommendations.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) for the latter part of his speech which more than compensated for the propaganda he imposed upon the House on behalf of his party in the first part of his speech. All that I would say—and I shall whisper it to the hon. Member—is—
§ Mr. Moyle
—that whatever the Tories have gained by reduced taxation from their Government the workers have had to pay for in the rising cost of living.
This is a good Bill. It is an enabling Bill empowering the Minister to do certain things in the interest of the health, safety and welfare of the agricultural worker. How the Bill will be imple- 1400 mented depends very largely upon the regulations. If the Minister is not prepared to set up an advisory committee on the lines suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. F. Willey), I should like to have an assurance from him that the trade unions concerned, particularly the National Union of Agricultural Workers, may be brought into consultation with the Minister before he decides finally upon the regulations which he proposes to draft under the provisions of the Bill.
I reinforce the plea of my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) that the Minister should consider bringing forward in Committee a provision empowering the trade unions concerned to send a representative to coroners' inquests whenever they consider it necessary. I am sure that the Minister will find that the precept and the practice has been held to be good since this provision was incorporated in the Factories Act.
The Bill indicates that the community quite rightly sets a much greater value upon the agricultural worker now than has hitherto been the case. The Measure is one of the most important proposals ever put forward in the House of Commons in connection with the welfare of the agricultural worker. It is an excellent attempt to make agriculture subject to the principles which underlie all our factory legislation.
I agree with the hon. Member for Kidderminster in emphasising the importance of adopting the same approach to this scheme of health, safety and welfare for the agricultural worker as we have adopted towards industrial workers, because that is the only sensible approach. It is useless to talk as if the agricultural worker can be hived off from the rest of the industrial community because that cannot be sustained by history. As one hon. Member rightly said, this Bill is not designed to deal with farms but with conditions of employment in precisely the same way as those of any other industrial worker. If the provisions of this Bill result in on-costs for the farmer, he must make provision for them in his accountancy in exactly the same way an any other industrial employer makes them a charge upon the product, whether it is a case of welfare, health or safety considerations.
1401 We can congratulate ourselves on the astonishing fact that we have achieved a greater degree of mechanisation in agriculture than any other country in the world, and this has been done since 1939. Of course the war started that development, which has been maintained at a high tempo, but have we done enough to ensure the development of machine-mindedness amongst the agricultural workers so that they can use these machines intelligently? I do not think so.
I am not an industrial product, thank heavens. I was brought up in the country and I am too fond of the soil to have any real affection for London, as have some people. I know what happens in the countryside. Only the other day a young friend of mine who works on i farm was in charge of a tractor. Attracted by something in the field where he was working, he left the tractor, walked in front of it, and picked up the object. Unfortunately he had forgotten to brake and the tractor overran him. He was taken to hospital with multiple injuries and will never be able to work again. The experience of this young man of 22 is a clear indication of the lack of machine-mindedness of these young people who are called upon to use the new machines.
§ Mr. Moyle
I am sorry that the sense of humour of my hon. Friend is missing this afternoon, but, if he will allow me to finish what I was saying, I will give him my view. I am anxious that everything possible should be done by the Minister to encourage training. How many lads have training in the use of agricultural machinery beyond the actual driving of a tractor or any mobile piece of machinery, to say nothing about static machinery such as hoppers, of which the hon. Member for Kidderminster spoke? I am thinking, for instance, of the huge combine harvesters which we see on the roads. I want these young men to be given the same training as is given to motor mechanics during their apprenticeship. If we give them that opportunity of becoming machine-minded, I am sure that the accident rate will diminish.
1402 The weakness of this Bill is the inspectorate. I was not happy about the statement made by the Minister in this respect and I hope he will reconsider it, because the inspectorate is vital to this Bill. I shall make three suggestions for the consideration of the right hon. Gentleman. First, the Minister should take an overriding responsibility for both sanitary conveniences and washing facilities in precisely the same way as he has done under the Slaughter of Animals (Amendment) Act. I have no quarrel with him in dividing the responsibility for those two obligations on the part of the employer between the local authority and himself as Minister. I ask him, therefore, to undertake an over-riding responsibility so that if any inspector who visits a farm finds that the sanitary conveniences are not up to standard, he will have the power to report to the Minister so that action will be taken where a local authority fails in its responsibility.
My second suggestion concerns the county agricultural committees, each of which has a machine section. I should have thought that in order to strengthen the inspectorate it would be practicable for either a motor mechanic, or at any rate someone with a knowledge of motor engineering, to have power to carry out inspections of work-worthiness of machinery which workers have to handle during their work, and to advise them in the handling of that machinery.
My third suggestion concerns the provision of first-aid equipment. We need not be dogmatic about whether that equipment should be attached to the vehicle or situated in convenient places throughout the farmlands. That matter can be dealt with in Committee. But it is not much use providing the workers with first-aid equipment unless they have some knowledge of first aid. I suggest to the Minister, therefore, that he should get into touch with the St. John Ambulance Brigade and ask it to work in conjunction with the National Farmers' Union, the National Union of Agricultural Workers and the young farmers clubs in order to start first-aid classes in the villages. One of the great contributions made by the railway workers to their own industry is their knowledge of first-aid, their knowledge of which has been extremely valuable when accidents have occurred on the railways.
1403 Finally, I wish the Minister every success, and I hope sincerely that when the Bill becomes law it will realise the purposes which it seeks to serve.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ Mr. C. E. Mott-Radclyffe (Windsor)
The Bill, rightly, has been welcomed by both sides of the House. I pass over the gap in the historical knowledge of the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond), who was surprised that it should be introduced by a Conservative Government. He belongs to a party which has talked a great deal but done very little for safety and welfare in factory, farm or mine, while the hon. and learned Member for Brigg (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu) belongs to a party which has talked more and has done even less.
However, this is not a party matter at all, and just to show that there is no ill-will, I should like to echo what was said by my right hon. Friend and the right hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) in regretting the absence, owing to illness, of the hon. Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Gooch), who happens to be my Member of Parliament, also. The hon. Member is extremely interested in this matter and would have liked very much to be here. However, the mantle of Elijah fell upon Elisha in the person of the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Dye), whose well-informed speech the House has enjoyed. It is a regrettable fact that whenever a tremendous increase in mechanisation occurs in an industry, there is also an increase in the accident rate.
I am a little surprised that no one has yet mentioned forestry, for the Bill applies to forestry workers as well as to agricultural workers. Although I do not know what the figures are, I should think that in some ways the hazards in relation to sawmills and timber felling are proportionately greater than in relation to the use of machinery on a farm. It would be interesting if the Joint Parliamentary Secretary could break down the accident figures as between agriculture and forestry, but perhaps that is an unfair request at short notice.
To return to agriculture as a whole, including forestry workers, the Bill, except for the Clauses dealing with sanitation 1404 and washing facilities, is largely an enabling Measure. I am glad that almost every hon. Member who has spoken has emphasised the essential difference between farm and factory. I am not for a moment attempting to belittle the extremely telling points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) about fixed plant, but, by and large, hon. Members on both sides of the House recognise that we cannot apply the Factories Act to agriculture. A factory is a compact unit; by its very nature, a farm is not so. Nor, as has been said, can we even compare one farm with another.
Therefore, while there may be absolutely no difference of opinion among hon. Members about the object of the Bill, I think we shall have to think very carefully how best to achieve the desired object, which is to promote, in a practical manner, the safety, health and welfare of those who work on the land. To prevent accidents, we must ensure that the regulations which are made by the Minister have due regard to the very diverse conditions on farms. We must be careful to determine what is practical and what is not practical.
I take it that one of the safeguards in achieving what we desire is provided by Clause 3 (5), which deals with the provision of sanitary conveniences, and says:Neither a sanitary authority nor the appropriate Minister shall serve a notice under this section requiring the execution of works involving the provision of fixed equipment unless they are, or he is, satisfied that special circumstances exist which render requisite the provision of such equipment …This, presumably, covers the point already made, that a sanitary authority would not expect a farmer to provide running water for sanitation or washing facilities on his farm if there was no piped water supply within miles, for to sink a well for that purpose alone might involve him in a totally disproportionate expense. I take it that that is the effect of the safeguard in the subsection.
I hope that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will be able to say something more about first-aid packs. I do not know how regulations are to be made about them. I am in favour of the principal of having a first-aid box at a prominent place on a farm, though, on the whole, it might be easier if each farm worker carried an individual pack with 1405 him. It would be very difficult to make and enforce a regulation for first-aid boxes to be transferred from one piece of machinery to another.
Perhaps I misunderstood the right hon. Gentleman opposite, but I do not think that a man working on his own, some distance from the farmhouse, would be likely to have with him a type of farm machinery which was dangerous. On the whole, the accidents usually occur in relation to machinery where two or three people are working together. Thus, the man is unlikely to suffer an accident when he is a long way off by himself and cannot get help.
We ought not in this debate to create the impression—no hon. Member has tried to do so—that the method of dealing with accidents on farms is haphazard. It is not so. When an accident happens, the man is taken to the farmhouse, where the farmer's wife or sister or somebody else nearly always has some kind of first-aid equipment and deals with the man to the best of her ability with great rapidity. If necessary, a doctor is called, or the man is taken to a doctor. It would be wrong and unfair to the farm worker and the farmer to give the impression that the system is haphazard.
With reference to Clause 6, it is the desire of all of us to prevent the appalling accidents which occasionally happen to children on farms. However, I cannot see how we are to make a regulation which is enforceable in respect of tractors or trailers. It is very silly to allow a child to ride on the link behind the tractor, but I do not know how we could enforce a regulation stating that a child must not ride on the tractor link but may ride on the rear vehicle.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for East Grinstead (Mrs. Emmet), who said that, whatever regulations we make, ultimately it all depends upon the common sense of parents. I do not think any of us want to discourage our children from riding on farm vehicles during the hay or corn harvest. They all enjoy it, it is very good for them, and it is one of the traditional features of the British agricultural landscapes. We do not want to make regulations in such a way that all that must stop. We do not want people to be uncertain about what a child is or is not allowed to do.
1406 There may also be the difficulty of attempting to draw a rigid dividing line between children who are actually employed on the farm in the sense that they are paid a few shillings at harvest time, and children watching the operation who desire to join in and lend a hand. I do not know how my right hon. Friend proposes to make regulations which are enforceable and sensible in this direction, although his object is one with which we all agree.
Finally, by far the most important Clause, and one which really determines whether the Bill will work successfully or not, is Clause 16 (2), which lays down that before Ministers make regulations they must… consult with such organisations as appear … to represent the interests concerned.In other words, before regulations are made the Minister must have consultations with somebody in the locality who knows what the problems and difficulties are.
It is extremely important that this consultation should work and that both sides of the industry should know that it works. Otherwise, I envisage circumstances in which either the farmer or the landowner may be involved in considerable capital expenditure which would bring little, if any, protection or amenity to the workers and would merely divert capital from other projects required to increase food production. That would be most unwise. With that proviso, that the Bill really hangs on Clause 16 (2), I welcome the Measure very much. I am sure that it will promote the health, welfare and safety of all who work on the land.
§ 6.51 p.m.
§ Mr. J. T. Price (Westhoughton)
I hope that it will not be thought inappropriate for a Lancashire Member like myself to offer a few observations on this important Bill. Most of us who have the honour to represent constituencies in the County Palatine are regarded as the spokesmen of industry, of cotton, coal and engineering, but I should like to remind the House that Lancashire is still one of the greatest agricultural counties in the country and that there the standard of husbandry is second to none. Even in the southern counties, where nature is kinder, the farmers cannot better our Lancashire men 1407 in some respects. [HON. MEMBERS: "Chicken farmers."] I did not think that that was a controversial statement. Nevertheless, one is always open to surprises in this House, and this is no exception.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) has correctly conveyed to the House the general welcome which we all give to this Measure. During the last half hour or so I have been provoked, to some extent, to join in discussion of the contentious matters raised by the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) and the hon. Member for Windsor (Mr. Mott-Radclyffe), but I must resist that temptation. There are occasions when one could dilate a great deal upon the question of the driving forces behind our social legislation. Where the driving force has been is a matter of controversy.
I take it that this is one of those happy occasions when the House is gathered together as a Council of State to do a useful job on a Bill on which there is a large measure of agreement. If there are differences on matters of detail they will emerge during the later stages. I have a feeling that the people I represent—the hundreds of farm workers and farmers in my constituency—will wish me to comment, without being unduly critical, on certain aspects of this legislation which may ultimately affect them personally. The hon. Member for Carlton (Mr. Pickthorn) spent a few moments in expressing his view about the merits and demerits of delegated legislation. That is a problem which we have often faced in our work in this House.
This Bill deals with a matter in which there are practical difficulties which are not exactly parallel with those dealt with in the Factories Acts, but I wonder whether we are wise in giving such a wide measure of delegated powers to the Minister. Within a few years when all the subjects mentioned in Clause 1 have been dealt with by regulation, I imagine that it will be most difficult for any layman, and indeed for many lawyers, to say exactly what the law is at any particular time on many of these important questions. We must approach this subject with an open mind.
I trust that the Minister will always bear in mind the difficulties which might 1408 arise from the delegated nature of some of this legislation. Legislation by Departmental order may be unavoidable, but it is the prime duty of the House of Commons in giving assent to a Measure of this character always to be on the alert to detect the dangers which might arise in future even if the negative or positive powers referred to by the hon. Member for Carlton are observed.
Much has been said about the general desire to promote greater safety and the welfare of our fellow citizens who work on the land. We are all committed to that object. In giving long overdue assent to this Measure, I hope that hon. Members will permit me to remind them that it is not only in the positive sense of preventing accidents and providing for greater safety that the Measure is undertaken; it is also designed to give equal status before the law to workers injured by machinery on the land. It has been a proper source of dissatisfaction among agricultural workers for many years that where injuries were sustained through contact with machinery they were not in the same position to make claims before the courts of common law as were those who suffered injuries in factories. The Bill will give that equal status.
I share the feelings of many of my hon. Friends that it is fallacious to suppose that we are legislating for individual farms in this sense; we are legislating for the industry as a whole. One might fairly draw a parallel between the small farms and the small workshops in industry which are covered by the Factories Act, 1937. There are many small workshops some of which may employ only a dozen people; nevertheless those employees are protected by that legislation.
As part of our attempt to increase the productivity of the land, dangerous machinery has been introduced. I am proud to say that this country is now the most highly mechanised agricultural nation. I read only today of the problems which beset the leaders of China, with its vast and growing population, where it is said that there are only 2,500 tractors as compared with the 400,000 employed in Britain.
In the Factories Act there are very much more specific provisions than those contained in this Bill. I know that I must be patient and wait for whatever revelations may be made. Nevertheless, 1409 I think I ought to remind the House that in, I think, Section 14 of the Factories Act, 1937, an absolute duty is placed on the occupiers of premises to securely fence and to maintain the fencing on all machinery which is considered to present danger to those operating it.
There are other provisions in this Bill which cause me to be very sceptical about the possibility of creating loopholes for the avoidance of this express provision that it shall be an absolute duty to fence dangerous machinery. By way of illustration, I might quote Clause 1 (3, d) which says—(d)requiring the giving of instructions with respect to the proper manner of using any machinery, plant, equipment or appliance, carrying on any operation, using any process or managing animals;I have no objection to that. It is quite in order that proper instructions should be given, but I would ask the Minister to be zealous in ensuring that, in any regulations which may be drafted, the fact that proper instructions have been given should not be permissible as a defence against failure properly to fence the machinery or keep it fenced when an accident has occurred, because such a defence is not available to any defendant in litigation under the Factories Act.
I think the hon. Gentleman will agree that Clause 1 (3, b) is fairly positive and specific in dealing with the kind of case, which is very important, to which he is referring.
§ Mr. Price
I think that is a fair point, but this matter has to be considered in conjunction with the quotation from the Bill which I read a moment ago.
Now I wish to say a word or two about Clause 1 (3, e) in which there is a prohibition of—the employment in work of any kind prescribed by the regulations of persons who have not attained the age of eighten, either absolutely,or except upon certain conditions. I do not know what the Minister has in mind, but I would prefer to see regulations under this Clause of such a character as to be no less effective than those now operating under the Factories Act itself, in which case the prohibition is pretty strong and there are few exceptions to it.
In Clause 1 (5) there is provision, to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley has referred, for exemption from the operation of the regulations. 1410 I think the House generally will be desirous of knowing what the Minister has in mind, because we ought to be extremely careful in opening any doors of that kind if such a course cannot be justified. May I say a word in passing about the inspectorate, on which I ventured to put a point in an intervention when the Minister was speaking? I have a very vivid recollection, for example, of the great hopes that were raised when the Shops Act, as a piece of protective legislation, was adopted in this country many years ago, and also of the various deficiencies in the administration of that Act which followed from the failure to have properly qualified inspectors to enforce its provisions.
I refer to the sort of ad hoc arrangement often adopted in the areas of small local authorities under which some official of the council, though without any special knowledge of shops or of the technicalities of the Act, was given the extra duty of shops inspector merely to comply with the requirements of the law which the local authority has to observe. I do not believe for a moment that if any factory inspector decided to undertake a prosecution for a breach of the Factories Act, 1937, he could confidently take out his summons and go into court with his brief unless he could speak with some engineering authority about the technical details of the machine involved in the accident.
I hope that, when we come to review the Bill in Committee, the Minister will be prepared to give closer attention to the need for an effective inspectorate, because without effective inspection much of this legislation will be abortive and futile, just as, I am sorry to say, a good many of the international conventions which have been adopted at Geneva have never become anything more than pieces of paper because there has been no inspection or enforcement in many of the other nations which were signatories to those conventions.
I should also like to refer to one of the basic considerations which apply to the Factories Act itself. When claims for damages are undertaken, it has to be shown that the accident occurred to a man in conditions in which the law of master and servant applied; in other words, the claimant has to prove the relationship of master and servant before the Factories Act can be applied to his 1411 case. I can think of many relationships on the land which may be dubious or be at least debatable in that respect, and particularly with regard to children. Much against the wishes of many people in this House, who have many times expressed their opposition to the casual employment of child labour, at certain times of the season children are employed for potato picking and so on. I suggest quite seriously to the Minister that, in trying to apply this Bill to the classes of labour with which we are concerned, we must also have regard to the relationship of master and servant, which is the critical consideration in applying the Factories Act to industrial employment.
The hon. Member for Kidderminster as usual regaled the House with one or two controversial ideas, upon which I will not enter, though I think the hon. Gentleman performed a useful service at this stage of the Bill in drawing attention to the extremely lethal character of a circular saw. Anyone with industrial experience knows full well that this machine is the most dangerous type of moving machinery with which we have to deal in industrial employment. I can say from personal experience that I have often investigated very serious accidents which have arisen from the careless or absent-minded use of circular saws in various industrial premises and also on the land.
I hope the Minister will consider whether there is not a need to tidy up our legislation in regard to the uses of circular saws on farms, on the land and in factories. I have always thought that there was a second safeguard in all these matters, in so far as anyone who has been injured by a circular saw could always claim that the master or employer had been negligent in not providing a safe system of working in accordance with the common law of the country. That is certainly the case with regard to forestry, in connection with which I can think of one or two cases of serious injury inflicted by circular saws employed in woodlands and forests.
May I now put one point which has not previously found expression so far in this debate, most of which I have heard? It concerns health and welfare in the general sense. The full title of the Bill is the Agriculture (Safety, Health and 1412 Welfare Provisions) Bill. We are tonight considering the social implications of accidents running into 25,000 a year and including 150 facilities. However, if we had a census of all the causes of incapacity among farm workers, we should probably find that the total number of days lost on the land far outstrips the number due to accidents. Illness caused by extreme exposure to all the elements, as is endured by farm workers, is part of their daily lives.
I have in mind the extremely heavy incidence of rheumatic disease among farm workers and the fact that under present legislation the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Acts do not schedule rheumatism as an industrial disease. Having in mind the extremely disabling character of rheumatism and allied diseases to which farm workers are so prone, I wonder whether we should not write into the Bill a provision for the protective clothing for workers engaged in many of the occupations with which we are dealing. That is important from the limited aspect of workers who come into contact with dangerous machinery.
In many factories today protective clothing is given as part of the conditions of employment of workers who come into contact with dangerously moving machinery. Clothing to protect workers from the weather is a different proposition, but I put it to the Minister that if we are to give the Title of the Bill its full value and really be concerned about health and welfare, we should consider protective clothing as one of the contributions which might be made greatly to improve the health and well-being of the farm worker.
Finally, I echo the sentiments already expressed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley and my hon. Friends. We all welcome the Bill as an important piece of legislation which will tend to encourage the retention on the land of people who are today drifting away to other less satisfactory forms of life, but who are doing so not because conditions on the land are worse, but because wages are worse. I should be out of order if I were to refer to the greatest piece of welfare for the farm worker, an increase in his wages. However, that is not the purpose of the Bill, which has my full support and which I hope will have a speedy passage.
§ 7.13 p.m.
§ Air Commodore A. V. Harvey (Macclesfield)
In following the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. J. T. Price), I shall make only one reference to his speech. The hon. Member referred to protective clothing, but he will find that it is very difficult to get farm workers to wear protective clothing or even white clothing in the dairy, unless he is there to see that it is done.
The right hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) almost suggested that this matter could have been dealt with under the Factories Acts. He obviously does not really believe that, and would be wrong so to do. As has already been pointed out, farms vary greatly. Farming is unlike any other industry and the people who work on farms are unlike those who work elsewhere. We have a modern set of farm workers who are quite different in their outlook and approach to the job from the farm workers of thirty or forty years ago.
One thing about the Bill which has disappointed me is that it contains no specific reference to electricity. I agree, however, that one would have to continue legislating if one were to cover every point. Nevertheless, the other day I heard of a bull in a pen which had rubbed itself against an electrical switch and which it had broken. The animal was electrocuted. It might have damaged the switch so that a farm worker who later touched it could have been electrocuted. With the modernisation and electrification of farms today, much more should be done to see that installations are functioning properly and that the workers are safeguarded.
The hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion) complained that few buildings had been erected in recent years. I believe he is wrong, because even driving around the countryside one can see new cow sheds, shippons, and so on, being built. Successive Governments have given initial allowances and high depreciation rates to ensure that new buildings are put up and I am sure that there is steady progress.
This, of course, is really an enabling Bill, giving the Minister powers which are very wide indeed. That is the only aspect of the Bill about which I am not entirely happy. I like to see a Bill clearly defined so that we know whether we are. We all know that the Town and Country Plan- 1414 ning Act, 1947, was a muddle and that there is hardly a lawyer in the country today who can read it. I hope that we do not get into a similar situation with this Bill.
We are all agreed that today the farm worker is a highly skilled man. Not only has he to be a mechanic, he must be an electrician, know the soil, know quite a lot about veterinary surgery, and the well-being of animals and how to get other people to work. That calls for a great deal from the young men entering the industry. Someone gibed about Cockneys. I have been told that 15-year-old boys from London who go to work on farms have made the best farmers. They are glad to get out of town and into the country.
We might build up an apprenticeship scheme through the county agricultural committees, which have excellent schemes, or through direct employment. I should like to see a period of initial training given to these apprentices. I understand that the Y.M.C.A. in most places, certainly in East Grinstead, has schemes for orphans to get 10 weeks' training. The farms and homes where the boys will live are inspected, and local clubs and places of worship are arranged for them. This is an excellent scheme, because the boys go to farms already knowing the rudiments of safety, and so on. My right hon. Friend should consider that.
I am not clear about Clause 1 (3, e). It reads:Prohibiting the employment in work of any kind prescribed by the regulations of persons who have not attained the age of eighteen, either absolutely or except upon the condition of their having received a sufficient training in work of that kind or being subject to such supervision as may be so prescribed.If a boy goes to a farm when he is 15, by the time he is 17½ he will be a fairly useful farm worker and it is very difficult to say that he may be exempt from the provisions of that paragraph. Who will go to the farm and exempt him? Some areas will have very few inspectors who are competent to judge. It is not easy for inspectors to say what should or should not be done when they are dealing with human beings, although they can do it when dealing with machinery.
I have a question about Clause 2, which deals with the lifting of weights. I should like to know what my right hon. Friend has in mind when he talks about lifting excessive weights. How can the Government prescribe what weight a man should 1415 lift? A small, wiry man is sometimes twice as strong as a man whose stature is much greater. Would my right hon. Friend think of prescribing for the deckhand of a trawler what size of rope he should be allowed to pull? I think it is going too far to say how much a man should lift. He is the best judge of that. The farm worker is not a fool; he is a very skilled man. I suggest that that provision should be left out of the Bill.
Much has been said about first-aid, and the Bill provides that a first-aid box is to be accessible. In a wood, two miles away, an employee may be working with a saw, with a small motor attached, and he may damage his arm if something slips. You cannot possibly tell him to go round the farm with a pack first-aid, or with first-aid equipment in his pocket. He would be bound to forget it. I suggest that a proper first-aid kit should be kept at a central part of the farm, and that a pack set should be available for such work as threshing, where three or more men are working together. One pack should be available, to be moved round the farm as required.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will reconsider the provision relating to children working or riding upon vehicles. Only a few years ago boys of 12 and 13 were working full-time on farms. I am glad that that is not the case today, but the fact remains that the best farmers are those who have been brought up on the farms and have grown into the job. I do not say that we should encourage boys of 10 or 11 to drive tractors, because tractors can be highly dangerous when they are not running on level ground. There again, first-aid equipment would not be of much use, even for grown-ups.
I suggest that no age limit should be imposed in the case of children who are helping on farms. As I read it, a child will not be able to ride across a field in a Land Rover. This is carrying matters too far. The onus must be placed upon the people who are running the farms. We must leave matters to their good judgment. Many of the improvements which we should like to see will have to be obtained through the good will of the employers and employees; they cannot be clearly defined by Act of Parliament.
§ Mr. J. T. Price
I would remind the hon. and gallant Gentleman that Parliament has already defined many of these 1416 matters in the Children and Young Persons Act, 1933. Anything we do to grant exemptions from that Act is-a derogation from legislation of a very different type which has already been passed by this House.
§ Air Commodore Harvey
That may be so, but would the hon. Gentleman say that the young son of a longshore fisherman, fishing off the South Coast, should not be allowed to help pull in the nets on a fine summer's day? We must keep a sense of proportion in these matters, otherwise we shall find ourselves legislating for more and more such things.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. G. R. H. Nugent)
The Clause provides for regulations to be made, and the question of the type of the vehicle or machine to be covered would have very close consideration. We should take into account just those factors that have been mentioned by my hon. and gallant Friend. It is very helpful to hear the considerations which he is putting before the House, but we are not ruling out the use of Land Rovers or anything else of that kind at this juncture.
§ Air Commodore Harvey
I have great confidence in our Ministers, especially those in the Ministry of Agriculture. I believe that they are a first-class team. But I am not happy to leave it to any Minister to say in what vehicles my son or anybody else's son should ride. When discussing a Bill on Second Reading we should know where we are. We cannot know much about something that may be brought in as an Order in Council, late at night, in two or three years' time, probably in a very thin House. I should like these matters to be made more definite.
I ask my right hon. Friend to see that nothing is done to prevent boys from maintaining their interest in and enthusiasm for farming. I quite agree that they should not be allowed to sit between a tractor and a drill. They may fall off and be run over. But we must leave many of these matters to the good judgment of the people running the industry.
It has been said that the Bill covers welfare, but it does not. As I see it, it deals mainly with the prevention of accidents. The broader questions of building up the agricultural industry into a more worth-while one are being dealt with all 1417 the time, by means of increased electricity and water supplies, better homes and grants for farms. The Bill deals with quite a separate issue—the prevention of accidents. I ask my right hon. Friend to go very carefully in this matter. I welcome the Bill, but I hope that it will not cover too much detail.
§ 7.25 p.m.
§ Mr. F. H. Hayman (Falmouth and Camborne)
I propose to refer to some of the points made by the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey), and, first, I would draw his attention to the Title of the Bill, which reads:To provide for securing the safety, health and welfare of persons employed in agriculture and certain other occupations and the avoidance of accidents to children.…The Bill deals not only with the prevention of accidents, but also provides for the safety, health and welfare of agricultural employees. There may be much in what the hon. and gallant Gentleman says about such things as weight lifting and youngsters obtaining a knowledge of farm machinery, but the Bill is introduced to protect the workers and to see that children do not run any unnecessary risk of being involved in accidents.
We are often told that parents do not look after their children as they should. I am sure that we all want to see introduced legislation which will avoid, as far as possible, the terrible accidents which can occur to children and adults on farms. Outside farm machinery, such as tractors, has to be so sturdy that it can stand up to rough usage, to an extent which is not necessary in other types of machinery. One has only to look at different fields to understand this. Some have steep slopes, some are bumpy, and some have big stones in them, and young children riding tractors across such fields can very easily be thrown off. I have sometimes been shocked to see young boys driving tractors. While I have admired their enthusiasm, I have always thought that it is very dangerous for a youngster to drive a tractor, and also to use many other types of farm machinery.
When the time comes for the Minister to make regulations in this connection, I have no doubt that he will consult the very efficient National Farmers' Union, the equally efficient National Union of Agricultural Workers and the other trade unions concerned. He will then have the 1418 best possible advice. I hope that we shall retain these provisions, thus enabling the necessary regulations to be made, but I share the hope of the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield that they will be sensible.
I believe that the hon. and gallant Gentleman also overstressed possible triviality in the Clause dealing with the lifting of heavy weights. I have seen men involved in very severe accidents through lifting heavy weights, and I hope that the Minister will retain the Clause dealing with that question and, when the time comes, introduce the necessary regulations after consultation with the interested parties.
§ Air Commodore Harvey
Will the hon. Gentleman say how he would ensure that any weight-lifting provisions are adhered to?
§ Mr. Hayman
I am not an expert on that subject and am prepared to leave the matter to the experts. They can consider it and bring forward regulations which in due time will come before us for consideration.
Clause 7 refers to the notification and the keeping of records in connection with accidents and diseases. I am more concerned about the diseases. One might almost call dermatitis an industrial disease particularly applicable to agriculture and horticulture. A week or two ago I had the privilege of visiting the Ministry's horticultural experimental station at Rosewarne, Camborne, where some very interesting experiments in the use of weed killers in relation to daffodil bulb growing and the like are being carried out. Some of those experiments will not come to full fruition for some years, but the growing use of poisons and weed killers in horticulture and agriculture can bring grave dangers to the people employed in those industries and elsewhere.
My hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Dye) referred to certain clubs as being useful in spreading knowledge of the benefits that will accrue from this Bill when it is enacted. I am quite sure that both the young farmers' clubs and the trade union week-end schools can do useful work in that direction. I am a little doubtful whether £70,000 is adequate to provide the necessary inspectorate, but we hope that, if it proves to be insufficient, Parlia- 1419 ment will later be asked for a larger sum. I am a little concerned about the additional inspection burdens to be put on local authorities, but, presumably, we can ask the Government to be more generous in their grants to local authorities to enable them to do this work. I am very glad that the local authorities have that duty.
We are all very proud of the way in which agriculture has been mechanised and modernised in this generation, and we are glad that we now have a Bill to deal with the dangers and hazards of this great industry. We all give it a great welcome and I, for my part, also regret that my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Gooch) is not here to see this Measure receive its Second Reading.
§ 7.32 p.m.
§ Mr. G. R. Howard (St. Ives)
Like the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Hayman), I welcome this Bill, and, because the vast majority of farmers are good employers, I am sure that they will be just as happy to co-operate as the farm worker and everyone else in the industry to any workable scheme.
We welcome the protection which will be given to the industry, but at the same time it is most important to stress the need for technical education. If we are to have this higher standard of inspection in order to keep machinery in good order, it is equally necessary to do all we can to ensure that young men going into agriculture shall have adequate technical education. What we as a Government are trying to do for secondary education for rural children should go hand in hand with steps to provide the technical education which will fit them for their work in the industry.
It is highly necessary, if we are to make regulations about sanitary needs, that everything possible must be done to speed up the provision of piped water in rural areas. Only today I had the case of an agricultural executive committee turning down, through some pure formality, a grant to a man for his own installation of pipes to bring him on to the main water supply. Such things need looking into, because it must not be made impossible for the farmer to comply with the sanitary regulations formulated under the Measure. We know in West Cornwall just how difficult the 1420 water position can be, especially in the summer.
A good deal has been said about the first-aid case, and there is no doubt that this is a difficult problem. A little learning is a dangerous thing, and the eagerness of people who want to help can often lead to much harm being done. There was recently a very gallant lifeboat rescue off the South Cornish coast. As a member of the management committee of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, I was later talking to the coxswain, and he was telling me about a man who, unfortunately, lost his life. We were discussing first aid and what action should be taken in the stress of the actual occurrence. I think we need to co-operate most thoroughly and carefully with the Red Cross and the St. John Ambulance Brigade in the production of a simple booklet and also on any training undertaken.
The siting of the first-aid equipment needs very careful consideration indeed. I do not think that anyone would quarrel with the provision of a first-aid box on the tractor itself, because the tractor goes about the farm and would generally be fairly near or could get to the scene of trouble to deal with the immediate emergency. But with that first-aid box should go a simple booklet such as that which many officers carried during the war. It was simple to understand and told what to do and—more important—what not to do. When considering the provision of the box or any modification which may have to be carried out to the tractor as the result of a regulation, it is most important that it should be made the manufacturer's responsibility to comply. Anything that can be done to make that possible would be a great help, because such modifications might involve farmers and owners in considerable expense.
My last point concerns Clause 16 (2). My hon. Friend the Member for Windsor (Mr. Mott-Radclyffe) seemed to draw the inference from the subsection that local organisations were to be consulted. I have read it and cannot see where he draws that inference. I think that it is important, however, that the consultations should be made in time, because those of us in another sphere covered by the Ministry of Agriculture, and, in this case, of Fisheries, know that certain consultations were rather hurried. One also hopes that when any regulation is under consideration all local organisations as well as others concerned will be consulted. 1421 Above all, I hope that every effort will be made to keep the regulations as simple as possible. I say that because reference has been made to the Town and Country Planning Act and I feel that we must do everything we can to have regulations that are simple and effective.
All these are points which, of course, will be considered in more detail later, but I should like to join with the hon. Gentleman opposite who said that this is one of the occasions when we see this House at its best; when everyone is out to produce something which will do good and something which, we hope, will help to improve the position of those engaged in agriculture and which will, therefore, encourage more people to enter this vital industry.
§ 7.40 p.m.
§ Sir Leslie Plummer (Deptford)
I should like to join with the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. G. R. Howard) in some of his remarks, and particularly the closing passages of his speech. Of course, we should all like to do something useful for agriculture, and some of us would like to do something even better than this Bill does. Any suggestions that I have to make on the Bill are presented in a spirit of good will in trying to help the Ministry, from my experience, to improve it.
Like the hon. Member for St. Ives, I am a little worried about the disposition of the first-aid pack. I can see the sense of its mobility when men are engaged together in a group, as, for example, when they are threshing, when there may be anything up to 14 of them working together. I can see the sense of having a mobile first-aid kit on the site in those circumstances. But I do not know how the regulations will provide for a man who is away by himself a mile from the homestead, who may be hedging or ditching and who may inflict on himself a most grievous wound with his billhook.
It is unreasonable to suggest that he should take a pack with him, and, in any case, he will not do so. What he will take will be a canvas bag containing his meal and a bottle of cold tea. If he is asked to take anything more than that he will not do so. What we have to do is to see that wise management ensures that the foremen are constantly going round so that first-aid can be administered in such cases.
My experience is that the most lethal weapon on the farm is not the tractor, 1422 but the ladder. When two men try to get a 36 or 40 rung ladder up to a hay-risk they almost break their backs getting it up and their necks getting down it. It is a lethal weapon, and I wish that some regulation could be produced to ensure that some spikes or stays are fitted to the bottoms of ladders, because they cause many accidents.
The hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey) referred to weights and the undesirability of instructing children about the weights that they should lift. I hope that the Minister will take no notice of that advice. It is essential that young children who work on farms during the holiday season, imbued with great enthusiasm—although that enthusiasm tends to disappear as they approach their later teens—should not be allowed to hump heavy weights about.
I suggest that we might start with a standard 100 lb. bag and abolish the ridiculous system which we have in this country of sacks of different kinds of cereal weighing different amounts—a sack of barley weighing 2 cwt., a sack of wheat weighing 2¼ cwt., and a sack of oats weighing 1½ cwt. These are too heavy even for adult people to carry. I must confess that I got more congratulations from the people who work with me on my farm when I installed an automatic lift on the back of a tractor and did away with the humping of these sacks, than for anything that I have done on my farm for a long time.
Children are tempted to show off. They help on the farms during the holiday period and they work side by side with experienced agricultural workers. It is a very manly task and these youngsters want to exhibit their prowess. Over and over again I find them lifting weights that are really beyond their capacity. They strain their young muscles and they do themselves really serious harm. While we have sacks of such sizes, and weighing so heavily, the temptation for these young children to show off as juvenile Hercules will be overwhelming. Therefore, it would be of benefit to adults, children and to the industry in general if we had a standard 100 lb. bag.
The hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield also referred to the question of discouraging children from riding on tractors. The Minister really must do this. In my own village, last summer, we had a most dreadful tragedy. One evening, 1423 at harvest time, a fanner took his three-year old daughter riding on the mudguard of a tractor. This happy day was ruined not only for the parents, but for everybody in the village when this child tumbled off the tractor and fell under one of the wheels and was killed almost immediately. It is doubtless a pretty rustic scene to see children riding on this farm machinery, but it is extremely dangerous.
I would support the Government wholeheartedly not only in forbidding children to drive these machines, but also in preventing them from riding on them. I hope that the regulations will not be so drafted as to make it impossible for a child to ride on a trailer or in a truck. I hope that the regulations will not be so drafted that the happiness of the children in the harvest field will be completely destroyed by not being allowed to go anywhere near such safe things.
I should like to ask the Minister a few questions about the definition of sanitary equipment. I apologise for not having been in the House during the whole of the debate, but I wonder whether the Minister is going to define what sanitary equipment shall be. Does it include an earth closet? Will a chemical closet be sanitary equipment? We must face the fact that many of our farms do not have any water at all, and many, if they have water, do not necessarily have it at a particular place where men are working. It would be wrong to say that sanitary equipment shall not be installed until the water comes, because there are plenty of people in this country living healthy lives and who use chemical closets. I do not suggest that they should continue using chemical closets for the rest of their lives, but to deny workers the facilities of sanitary conveniences because water is not available would be to deny for too long those elementary conveniences that they should have.
Moreover, what happens if an inspector runs up against a rural district council which has a majority of farmers on it, and finds that those farmers are not willing to act as they should act as the sanitary authority? Suppose the inspector, angered by the refusal of that sanitary authority to take any action, goes to the magistrates' court only to find the same farmers who comprise the rural district authority also sitting in the court. Does 1424 the inspector then have to write direct to the Minister, and then does the Minister have the authority to say to the agriculturist concerned, "You cannot go on sheltering behind so obscurantist a council and so reactionary a bench; you must get on with the job"?
I do not think that that is an exaggeration. It can take place in backward rural areas where the prospect of having to spend any money on so revolutionary and progressive a thing as a water closet is enough to drive a farmer mad. In those circumstances, I hope that the Minister will be able to exercise his authority.
I wish that some of the provisions of the Factories Acts could be applied to agriculture. I wish that some of the Clauses in the Bill were mandatory rather than permissive. Anything that we can do to make the lot of the agricultural worker better and safer than it is at the moment, in particular, helping to give him the same sort of dignity and pride that a workman in a factory has, to make up to him for the loss of conveniences which industrial workers have, with canteens and warmth in the winter and coolness in the summer, will have the support of my hon. Friends, not because we think this is a matter of charity to the agricultural workers but because we regard it as their right and privilege.
§ 7.50 p.m.
§ Commander J. W. Maitland (Horncastle)
I agree with most of the speech of the hon. Member for Deptford (Sir L. Plummer), except with the picture which he has drawn of a rural community. I find—and I think this is fairly widespread throughout the country—that farmers are far more progressive than he suggested. In my part of the country the farmers want water and if they had water they would provide water closets. I should not like it to go out from either side of the House that we consider that farmers are not ready and anxious to provide the best amenities they can possibly provide for their workers.
§ Sir L. Plummer
I am sure the hon. and gallant Gentleman would not wish deliberately to misinterpret what I have said. I was quoting an extreme example and asking what would happen if we met such a case. I would not suggest for a moment that all farmers, as employers, are bad and are unwilling to provide 1425 proper facilities. I was putting a hypothetical question—what would happen if such cases arose in certain instances.
§ Commander Maitland
That shows, as you have often warned us, Mr. Speaker, the difficulties which arise if one goes in for hypothetical questions.
The Government ought to be very pleased with the reception of the Bill. Obviously, they have a difficult task because they have, on the one hand, to steer clear of an army of snoopers and, on the other hand, not to lay themselves open to the accusation of paying £70,000 just for a pretty picture which means nothing to anybody.
On the whole, they have succeeded in their task rather well, but I should like to comment on the enormous powers which the Bill takes. In the course of nearly eleven years in the House I do not think I have ever seen a Bill which took such wide powers. If hon. Members look at Clause 1, for example, they will see a list of the suggested possible regulations and that it is preceded by the sentence:Without prejudice to the generality of the last foregoing subsections.…To make matters even more clear, paragraph (h) reads:Any incidental, supplementary or consequential matters for which it appears to the authority by whom the regulations are made requisite or expedient to provide for the purposes of the regulations.It seems to me that if that means anything it means that when the Bill becomes law the Minister can take practically any action he likes to try to promote the objects of the Bill. This is sound as long as the regulations are sensible. Of course, in debating the subject now we are giving a most general assent to the principles of the Bill, but, naturally, we want to see what are the regulations which this Minister and successive Ministers introduce into the House.
There are two or three small points which have probably been made already, but to which I should like to draw the Minister's attention. The first concerns shooting from tractors. It has been mentioned, but I am particularly anxious to draw his attention to it since I find nothing in this very wide Bill which prohibits the carrying of firearms on agricultural machinery. In my district there have recently been serious accidents through this, and I know that there have 1426 been accidents in neighbouring districts, too. It might be worth while to insert a regulation to deal with that matter.
I think that Clause 5, as drafted, is inclined to fall into the category of what might be described as face saving. It is very wide. It sounds all right, but I wonder whether it means a great deal, because it uses the term "agricultural unit." As has been said, agricultural units vary in size enormously. I should like to see provision giving the inspector power to make suggestions where the Red Cross box should be kept. I put in a Red Cross box in a farm the other day, but before doing so I approached my friend the local doctor, who was most anxious that I should not put it in before he had given some instruction to the men working there.
As he pointed out, an ignorant person—and there are still people in the country who are ignorant in the use of such things as a tourniquet—can do a great deal more harm than good in these matters. When we consider Clause 5 in Committee we must see whether we cannot introduce a provision for education and instruction in the use of these Red Cross boxes—some opportunities of obtaining instruction and some power, perhaps, for the inspector to decide in these matters.
I live in an area where there are some large farms and to me it seems ludicrous that we should have one box on a large 800–900 acre farm in the same way as we have one box on a smallholding of one acre. There ought to be a little more give and take in this matter—and that applies to the whole Bill, because the Bill will work if common sense is displayed between the Government and the agricultural community and, incidentally, Members of the House of Commons when they deal with the Bill in Committee. I believe that we can make something of the Bill, but we shall need to keep our feet firmly on the ground.
Finally I want to deal with a point of perhaps greater importance. The Bill provides a mesh of safety regulations to try to protect the agricultural worker and those who work on the land but integrated with it should be the whole question of compensation. That is the other side of the picture. Particularly in agriculture, some of the existing provisions of the various Insurance Acts, which should cover these accidents, are not working 1427 very smoothly. Consider, for instance, the question of being injured by animals. There is only one short mention of animals in the Bill, but it is important and, as hon. Members know, it is extremely difficult to get full compensation in these cases unless it can be proved that it was a fierce animal.
That seems to me a stupid and unnecessary complication. If a man is trodden on by a cart horse it does not much matter to him whether it is a fierce cart horse or not; he still knows all about it. I know that this is not quite within the compass of the Bill, but I ask the Government to see that they integrate the compensation side of the matter with it, because a great many of us who live in the country feel that that is necessary and that at the moment it is lacking.
I wish the Bill well. I believe that given common sense—and there is no better common sense than in the English countryside—we can make it into a good Act of Parliament which will be helpful in the future.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Mr. E. G. Willis (Edinburgh, East)
I wish to join with those who have given a welcome to the Bill. Obviously, the aims and objects of this Measure are in themselves most desirable, but I do not see that it is possible to go much further than that because we do not know precisely how the objects of the Bill are to be attained.
As the hon. and gallant Member for Horncastle (Commander Maitland) pointed out, the first Clause gives powers to the Minister to make regulations covering a vast variety of occasions in the life of a farm. The Bill sets out the procedure by which regulations are to be brought before the House. This Measure would cease to have any effect at all unless those regulations were brought before the House by the Minister and put into force.
I should have thought that in circumstances of that kind, when practically the entire operation of the Measure is dependent on regulations, those regulations ought at least to be the subject of affirmative procedure rather than of negative procedure. That would ensure a debate on the provisions of the regulations when hon. Members would be able to discuss them instead of being dependent upon whether or not a Prayer was put on the 1428 Order Paper. I suggest that the Minister ought to look at that procedure again in view of the important part that will be played by the regulations. We have to wait to see what the regulations will be.
Having read the Clauses of the Bill, I find it rather difficult to see how some of these things are to be enforced. They appear to be entirely dependent on an efficient inspectorate. That brings me to my second point, a point which has probably not been made during the course of the debate, certainly not while I have been in the House. When I look at the provisions relating to Scotland I find that the financial provision is £8,000 as compared with £70,000 for England and Wales. I could understand that if it were based on the respective populations of the two countries, but I should have thought that there was almost as much work to be done by inspectors—that is what the money is to be provided for—in Scotland as in England and Wales. I am prepared to agree that the work would not be quite so much, but £8,000 seems a very small sum indeed compared with £70,000. I have been trying to puzzle out why that is so. Perhaps the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland may be able to say why the sum for Scotland is so small.
I do not profess to be an expert in reading Bills, but is the reason for this the fact that some of the provisions under Clause 3 when applied to Scotland are to be carried out by the county council instead of by the Minister? If that is so, there seems to be something unfair about it. If the county council has to undertake in Scotland work which in England is done by the appropriate Minister, it ought to receive financial compensation for doing that work. I may be wrong about it, but I cannot see any other reason for the small amount for Scotland, and I thought that, perhaps, that was a contributory reason. I wish to ask the Joint Under-Secretary whether, in fact, an obligation falls on the county council which in England falls on the Minister and which, I suggest, ought to be paid for by the Government and not left to local authorities. I appreciate, of course, that local authorities would recover part of the cost from the Government in any event.
I do not like this procedure of trying to incorporate Scottish legislation into English Bills. Recently we had an unfortunate case, which it would be out of 1429 order for me to discuss now—the Teachers' (Superannuation) Bill. Here we have another case where, although we have our own Scottish Department under the Secretary of State, legislation for Scotland is found scattered throughout the Bill. That makes for untidiness and makes it exceedingly difficult to follow, so much so that a definition Clause and much of Clause 22, which also is a definition Clause, are neecssary. It makes it exceedingly difficult for the ordinary Member of Parliament to follow and, I should think, rather difficult for the people who will have to operate this legislation.
I notice that in Scotland the Bill is extended to bring within its scope school children engaged under the potato harvesting scheme. I had hoped that very shortly the Government would be able to tell us that they were able to dispense with that scheme, but it appears from this Bill that the Government have accepted it as a permanent part of our agricultural life. I think that is rather deplorable, although I appreciate that if the scheme is to remain a necessary part of our agricultural life in Scotland, the children ought to be included. It seems a defeatist attitude for the Government now to be accepting it more or less as a permanent feature.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Niall Macpherson)
Would not the hon. Member agree that even though it is to last only for a certain time, it would be desirable that the legislation should cover the children in the meantime?
§ Mr. Willis
I agree that the legislation should cover those children, but I had hoped that the Government would have been able to announce the end of the scheme, at least by next year. There is certainly a large volume of opinion in Scotland which is opposed to the scheme and a large number of hon. Members are opposed to it. Some time ago it was thought that the scheme would be brought to a speedy conclusion, instead of which the indications are that it is to continue at least for some years ahead. I think that is to be deplored.
I wonder how Clause 8, which deals with coroners' courts and evidence given by inspectors about neglect or defects of machinery, is to be related to Scotland. We do not have coroners' courts in Scot- 1430 land. When an inquiry is made into an accident, should not an obligation be placed upon the persons responsible to inform the inspector of any neglect or defect that comes to light? As I read the Bill, there is no provision for that being done. That may not be very important, but I think that it would be a useful provision and I should have liked to have seen incorporated an obligation to-inform the inspector where negligence or defects in machinery were 'brought to light in Scotland. That is one of the difficulties which arise from the amalgamation of legislation for countries with separate Departments, different systems and different laws.
I hope that the Joint Under-Secretary will say a word or two about these matters, particularly about the financial aspects of the Bill. I join with other hon. Members in welcoming the Bill. I think that it can be an important piece of legislation, provided that full advantage is taken of it, but, of course, the extent to which advantage is taken of it will entirely depend on the Minister.
§ 8.10 p.m.
§ Captain J. A. L. Duncan (South Angus)
I start with two quotations from the Gowers Report. The first is that in the opinion of the Gowers Committee agriculture isunsuited to control by a statute of the character of the Factories Act.The other quotation is as follows:We think"—said the Gowers Committee unanimously—that the average farm does in fact provide adequate and decent facilitiesfor sanitation and health for the farm worker.
A lot has been said today in criticism of our farms. I do not share that view. As the hon. Member for Norfolk, Southwest (Mr. Dye) said, in recent years an enormous amount of progress has been made. I believe that the attitude of the farmer and landowner today is to make it more and more attractive to live in the country from the point of view of health, welfare, and amenities on the farm.
The Bill, which has been introduced as a result of the Gowers Committee's Report, is, first, a regulating Bill. The guts of it, if I may use that term, will be in the regulations which are to be made 1431 later. The hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) said that nobody would criticise that procedure. I do not like, and never have liked, regulation-making procedure. I have to accept it unwillingly in the light of the modern State and the complications of modern Government.
I support my hon. Friend the Member for Carlton (Mr. Pickthorn) and the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) concerning Clauses 16 and 17. There may be something to be said for retaining the negative procedure on Clause 16, but to my mind there is nothing to be said for continuing the negative procedure with Clause 17. It may well bring into the purview of an Act of Parliament a whole host of people who are not being considered today when the Bill is going through this House. I hope that my right hon. Friend will consider the point carefully, because it is important that under this regulation machinery Parliament should have as much control over these things as possible.
There are, of course, safeguards. Nearly all the way through the Bill we read that no regulations can be made unless it is "reasonably practicable" to do so. Secondly, there has to be prior consultation with all the interests concerned. That is the second safeguard. Even under the Bill, there is the third safeguard that some form of Statutory Instrument has to be introduced, with the possibility of its being rejected by Parliament if it does not meet Parliament's wishes. While I admit that there are safeguards, I should like them to be much stronger.
The Bill deals with accidents on the farm. A great deal has been said about the necessity for dealing with this aspect because of the additional complications of the machinery that is used nowadays on farms. My experience is that it is just as easy to have an accident with an ordinary mould board horse-drawn plough as with a combine. Manufacturers today have a sense of responsibility and, subject to the necessity for making the machines useful, they provide such safeguards as can be put on the machines to prevent anyone from injuring himself. I should, however, like to echo—not wholly but partly—one suggestion which has been made today.
The hon. Member for Sunderland, North suggested that an advisory council 1432 should be set up to deal with the Bill. It deals with so many miscellaneous subjects and I doubt whether an advisory council would be quite appropriate. There is, however, something to be said for the establishment of a machinery advisory council, on which the manufacturers would be represented. My right hon. Friend the Minister spoke of a safety committee, whose name I forget, which had been set up and on which farmers and others were represented, but he did not mention the most important people, the manufacturers of machinery. If we can secure their interest in the making of safe machines, we shall have saved the farmers who buy the machines enormous trouble afterwards, for all that they will have to ensure is that their men do not remove the safety appliances. It should be a routine matter that when a farmer buys a machine, it has passed all the normal safety tests.
Clause 2 is designed to prevent young people under the age of 18 from lifting unduly heavy weights. I do not know why it should be restricted to persons under the age of 18. The hon. Member for Deptford (Sir L. Plummer) pleaded for the limitation of the capacity of grain bags to 100 lb. I should like to compromise and suggest a figure of 112 lb. I should like the millers to convert all grain bags, whether 2 cwt. wheat bags, 1¼ cwt. barley bags or 1½ cwt. oat bags, into 1 cwt. bags, which would solve the problem not only for young persons under the age of 18, but for the older people too. In my experience—possibly I do not have the knack of some of my men—it is difficult to carry 2 cwt. wheat bags—railway bags as we call them in Scotland—from the mill and put them on to the lorry.
It all depends on the millers. If they do not co-operate, it will be difficult to secure enforcement. I should like the Government to approach the millers to see whether we can get rid of this complicated difference between the weights of bags of one kind of grain and another and to convert them all into 1 cwt. bags. I have discussed this with farmers in my constituency and they are entirely in favour of what I say.
Another problem is raised by the modern selective weed killer. Nobody knows what ingredients these things contain. Some of them must be dangerous, and I know that special Acts of Parlia- 1433 ment have been passed, but I feel that special provision should be made for the men who have to handle these things. Some kind of analysis should be published to show how dangerous these things are. Even after the ground or the crop has been sprayed, there is always the danger of skin infection to people who come along behind. We ought to be prepared to accept very stringent regulations in dealing with these modern selective weed sprayers, which may well possess potential danger.
I agree very largely with what my hon. Friend the Member for East Grinstead (Mrs. Emmet) said regarding children. An awful lot of nonsense is talked about the dangers of children on farms. I agree with what the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West had to say. The danger comes not from children on the farm, but from the "incomers," the children from the towns. There are, of course, dangers. I hope that Clause 6 may be extended in some way to embrace parents, so that they may share the responsibility rather than that we should have too grandmotherly legislation which would be largely unenforceable.
Of course, it is dangerous to ride on some of the implements, but I think we ought not to interfere with the relations between parents and their children, and such a proposal as this will be almost impossible to enforce. Suppose, for instance, the inspector happens to call at the farm when the farmer is away at market, and the inspector finds that, in spite of the farmer's orders to his men not to take their children on the tractors, they do so, and his orders are disobeyed. Apparently the farmer will still be held responsible.
A fact which has not been mentioned yet is that some of the regulations apply to the workers as well. I think that is right. That will afford some protection to the farmer. The farmer has to be away from his farm from time to time on business. If the farmer gives his orders about safety and does his best to supervise them, still things can go wrong, especially in his absence, and there must be some responsibility on the workers, too, and Clause 12 deals with that.
Another matter I have discussed with my farmers is the proposed provision of first-aid boxes. They are, I think, unanimous in the view that the farm's first-aid box should be in the farmhouse. It 1434 is no good carrying packs about with the men, or carrying a little first-aid box on a tractor or a plough. The farmhouse is the place for it. Usually the farmer's wife, or whoever it may be who ordinarily keeps the house, has enough knowledge, or can gain enough knowledge, of first aid to treat a hurt. The farmhouse is the centre of the farm, the place to which the roads lead, and one can go to or from the farmhouse in a matter of a few moments.
I see a little difficulty about the contents of the box. An hon. Friend of mine mentioned a tourniquet, and I agree that without knowledge of a tourniquet it will be more dangerous to have a tourniquet in the box than not to have one. I should like the regulations which are made about the first-aid boxes to state what they should contain. I remember that when I was going to another country to farm, a country where there are poisonous snakes and things like that, I thought I had better get a Red Cross box. The first question I was asked when I went to get one was, "Do you know anything about poisons?" I said, "No, I do not know anything about them." "If you did," I was told, "we could put in the box a whole lot of things which you could use to treat yourself if you should be bitten by a poisonous snake or other tropica] creature, but as you do not, we can give you only very limited things which will help you only for the time being." I think it is very important that there should be nothing in the box beyond the knowledge and capacity of the ordinary person to apply for treatment.
§ Mr. Stan Awbery (Bristol, Central)
Would not that difficulty be overcome by the farmer agreeing to pay a worker a sum above the ordinary rate if he has knowledge of first aid? That is done in a number of industries, and a man with a certificate gets 6d. or 1s. or 2s. pay above the ordinary. If the farmers did that they could encourage the workers to take an interest in first aid.
§ Captain Duncan
The trouble is that the one farm worker on a farm trained in first aid may be a long way off——
§ Captain Duncan
—perhaps a mile away, when the accident occurs. The farmhouse is the fixed centre, and the farmer's wife, or daughter—whoever is ordinarily at home in the farmhouse—is 1435 the one everybody about the farm knows and goes to in these emergencies, because everyone knows she is there and ready to help.
I think that the provisions relating to sanitary and washing facilities are generally reasonable as at present set out. The vast majority of Scottish farms are small, where only one or two men are employed; perhaps, with no hired labour at all. When workers are engaged to work on a farm they usually live either on the farm or very close to it. When the workpeople can get home to their dinners there is absolutely no necessity for elaborate schemes for providing washing equipment. The problem of washing arises only where there are special circumstances. Therefore, I am glad to see that the Bill provides that that equipment, those facilities, should be provided where they do not exist and where there may be a large amount of labour employed on the farm. In such a case, of course, it is reasonable that they should be provided.
Fixed equipment, however, is not suitable, for instance, for a potato gang, whose employment is of its nature temporary, and who move from field to field on the farm. Therefore, the Bill deals with mobile equipment, to meet the needs of mobile labour. I hope that these provisions will be passed in their present form, for I believe that they will meet the needs of the Scottish farmers.
There is a small matter, a Committee point, in a way, but I would mention it now because it is important from the Scottish point of view. It is about fixed equipment being ordered, and having to be put in, in spite of any appeal that may have been made. By Section 8 of the 1949 Act there is provision whereby a landlord may make application for an increase in rent. That is so in Scotland. I believe that the corresponding English Act makes the same provision in identical words though the practice may be different in the two countries. There is no guarantee in Scotland that the landlord will get increased rent to offset his capital outlay. There is no such guarantee to the landlord in advance of his going to the cost of putting in the fixed equipment. The arbiter may take the view—has taken the view in similar cases in Scotland— that that does not increase the renting value of the farm and that, therefore, no extra rent should be paid.
1436 I do not think that that is very satisfactory. As the equipment envisaged through the Bill is in a way fresh equipment, needed only in special cases, I suggest to my right hon. Friend that it should be in his power, and in the power of the Secretary of State for Scotland, to fix the rate of interest on the net amount of money paid by the landlord in providing the fixed equipment. I think that would be better than relying on Section 8 of the 1949 Act.
I welcome the Bill as a small but important Measure which carries further a programme of Conservative and Unionist progress throughout the century. [Laughter.]The hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) laughs, but he cannot have been here when my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) spoke of the Factories Act, 1937, the Mines and Quarries Act, 1954, and of this Bill covering all productive industry by regulations to promote the health, safety and welfare of the workers. As this work is now reaching a stage of completion, I welcome the Measure and hope that it will be of some use not only to the agricultural industry but, in particular, to all farm workers.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Donald Sumner (Orpington)
As a countryman, I welcome the Bill and its object of endeavouring to improve the condition of farm workers. As an hon. Member of this House, however, I do not like Clauses 16 and 17, and I do not like die procedure of making regulations and, in particular, orders which do not receive the positive assent of the House. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Angus (Captain Duncan), however, has dealt with that subject far more adequately than I could do; therefore I will say no more than that I associate myself most strongly with his views on that subject.
It is as a lawyer, the third of my very limited capacities, that I should like to comment on the onus in law which is being placed upon farmers. When one has a Bill of this kind one immediately places upon farmers very heavy statutory obligations. The Factories Acts, of course, have placed these heavy obligations upon factory owners, but for the most part they are more able to bear them. There is also very much less likelihood of a breach of regulations because 1437 of the reasonably confined space and the close inspection which it is possible to carry out in factories.
The Bill places upon the farmer an onus, in breach of which he may be liable to lose thousands of pounds. If, for example, a farm worker were killed all that his widow or dependant would have to show would be that the farmer was in breach of a regulation made under the Bill and that the death resulted from that breach. Once that is shown the case is made out. That duty is absolute, unlike a duty based on the common law of tort. It is not a question of the limited damages which might be paid to a man for the loss of a finger, serious as that might be, but a question of having to support a widow and children for the rest of the expectation of the deceased man's life. The sum, therefore, could be £3,000, £5,000 or £10,000.
It may be said that the farmer can insure, but it always seems to me a very bad excuse for putting upon anybody duties which are too onerous to say that out of his own financial efforts he can safeguard himself against the result.
Farmers are not always methodical in business, and the matter of insurance might be overlooked, as it would not be in a factory. The farmer would then find himself in dire peril indeed. However, that does not mean that in my view regulations should not be made, because if that is to be the case the farm worker or his dependant is not to be protected simply because the farmer might find himself in a difficult position. However, the regulation must be most carefully made.
I urge upon my right hon. Friend that, when these regulations are to be made without the assent of the House, not only should they be made very clearly and simply, but the Minister should be quite sure that the farmer can make certain that they are discharged. The Bill appears to suggest that that may not be possible. Clause 15, which deals with the penal, the quasi-criminal, side of the matter and not the civil side, states:It shall be a defence for a person charged with a contravention of a provision of this Act or of regulations thereunder to prove that he used all due diligence to secure compliance with that provision.I suggest that shows that a farmer may use all due diligence to secure compliance and yet there may not be compliance. In my understanding of the law, in which I 1438 know I am often wrong, that would provide no defence for a claim in the civil courts based on a breach of statutory obligation under the Bill. Therefore a farmer is in a grave position.
Experience tells me that in the years to come we shall be faced with a mass of regulations. I hope that regulations made under this Bill, when it passes into law, will remain simple. Above all, I hope that no regulations will be made unless all concerned are satisfied that a farmer can, in the words of Clause 15, with "all due diligence … secure compliance with that provision."
§ Mr. Awbery
Will the hon. Gentleman agree that this Bill only places the farmer in the same position of responsibility as that of a factory owner? The employer has to carry the responsibility whether the factory employs five or six workers or 500 or 600. We are asking the farmer to carry exactly the same responsibility.
§ Mr. Sumner
I am not saying that regulations should not be made. They are essential in the interests of the farm workers. There is the difference, however, that the factory owner is a business man, a methodical man, who will remember to get himself insured. Although it will be the fault of the farmer if he fails to do so, it may be a heavy misfortune for him. A second and stronger point of difference is that regulations made under the Factories Acts can be complied with because a factory is far more simple to deal with than a farm. In a factory there are inspectors, welfare officers and others, but many farm accidents occur when a farm worker goes off on his own.
§ Mr. Awbery
But that argument was advanced when the Factory Acts were going through the House of Commons, namely, that the factory owners could not carry the responsibility.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris)
I must remind hon. Members that the House is not in Committee.
§ 8.38 p.m.
§ Mr. J. E. B. Hill (Norfolk, South)
May I, first, associate myself with the regret expressed by my right hon. Friend and other speakers at the absence through illness of the hon. Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Gooch). Although an opponent, he is one of my most distinguished constituents, and we all wish 1439 the hon. Gentleman a speedy return to health in order to give us the benefit of his services during the Committee stage of this Bill.
During the debate the main principles of the Bill have been thoroughly discussed, and much interest has been shown in points that would be better discussed in Committee. None the less, I want to follow what my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Sumner) has been saying about the regulations. Here we have wide and general powers and I hope that specific and detailed regulations will result from their use.
The debate has shown that it is very much easier to decide what ought not to be done on a farm than to prescribe what should be done. I have been struck by the differences, rather than the likenesses, between farm and factory. The farm worker rarely works under fixed conditions in the same place. His job is not often specialised. He is subject to a many-sided routine which varies from hour to hour. He is generally not indoors. He uses only a little fixed equipment. In so far as the Factories Acts can be applied—I believe that our factory legislation is the best in the world—by all means let us apply them, but I believe that the area in which we can apply them is limited.
The farm worker's life is far more analogous to that of the soldier. After all, like the soldier, he is on active service in the field. The risks which the farm worker runs in the battle against nature for food production are very comparable to those of the soldier, if not in face of the enemy, at any rate in practising his profession. There are broad strategic plans for the farm; the farmer works out his cropping routine, his organisation. The farm workers, dispersed over the farm, are often confronted by the changes and chances of the immediate tactical situation dictated by the forces of nature in the weather, the behaviour of animals, and so on.
"Know your enemy" is the first and greatest factor tending towards the safety of the agricultural worker. How often is it said in the case of farm accidents, "If only I had thought; if only I had realised!"? A very large proportion of the accidents might be avoided by the observance of fairly well-established rules of conduct.
1440 Fatalities attibutable to firearms amount to 11 per cent. of the total accidents. I hope that, under the regulations, we shall prohibit the carrying of loaded firearms on tractors. Apart from that instance, I doubt whether regulations in themselves will prevent firearms fatalities. Yet if only the ordinary code of conduct, which anyone on his introduction to firearms is usually taught, were observed, nearly all such accidents would not have occurred.
Statistics show that, on the whole, machinery, although it is extremely dangerous and further safeguards could be provided by manufacturers, is not responsible for more than about 11 per cent. of fatalities if we exclude tractor accidents; and many tractor accidents arise from a failure to observe very ordinary rules, such as driving too near the edge of the field so that the tractor overturns, or trying to back a tractor without being properly seated on it.
I feel that further education and instruction should at least cut down the rate as much as the effect, by itself, of regulations. In that connection, I should like to know what provision there will be for publicising the safety precautions and instructions when the Bill becomes an Act. I should like to see not only something like the Highway Code which could be disseminated to all farms, but forms of visible instruction—films that could be put on in the villages to demonstrate safety precautions on farms. I have looked through the catalogues and I do not think that there is an up-to-date film which deals with safety on the farm. Perhaps the B.B.C. television service and the I.T.A. might have a little competition in devising the best programmes to promote safety.
On the subject of children, I hope that a middle way will be found between exposing children to unnecessary and avoidable danger and, at the same time, treating them as people less wise than their years. Children, often at an early age, are extremely knowledgeable and sensible in their behaviour. One fact that we cannot extract from existing statistics is the number of children injured while playing on farms compared with the number injured while doing specific jobs.
If a child wants to work on a farm and is interested, if he can be given a job which absorbs his attention and is within his capacity, he is then very happily, use- 1441 fully, and, indeed, safely occupied in the field. I cannot think of a happier occasion than, say, when a father has some late drilling to do and his son stands on the back of the drill, where someone is meant to stand, to see that none of the cups get blocked by seed or fertiliser. That is a job well within the capacity of an intelligent child.
One should prohibit children from participating in dangerous practices. After all, one cannot lawfully go on to the high road while riding on the bar of a bicycle. I hope that people will be prohibited from riding on dangerous parts of tractors. The manufacturers might well think of making their tractors capable of seating two people; some do, but it is rather rare. If there are two seats on a tractor, half the difficulty disappears because there can always be a passenger or someone under instruction. Similarly, one would not wish to deprive the child of the excitement of the ride home on the haycart. One might say that no one may ride on the top of the load if it is not well secured with ropes so that a passenger can hang on.
Buildings may present certain difficulty. There are many new buildings but, farm buildings, unlike factory buildings, also resemble soldiers in that they do not die—they simply fade away over many years. The reason is that in a town building sites are valuable and obsolete buildings are cleared to make way for new factories. On a farm, dry weather space is most valuable and old buildings are relegated to secondary jobs. What might once have been a strong Elizabethan granary may now be safe only for the storage of dry and empty sacks. It may well be unsafe to carry coomb sacks full of corn up the steps of an Elizabethan granary and to dump them on a rickety floor. There can be little danger if the person concerned realises that the building is rather shaky, and that it is safe only for the storage of light goods out of the weather.
Of course, under the statutory model repair clauses which stem from the pioneer of the Agriculture Act, for good estate management, there will be conditions in which landlord and tenant can agree that specified and scheduled buildings are deemed to be obsolescent, and that neither side shall repair them, so that they are left on the farms for such use as can be made of them. Therefore, at a, later stage we shall have to consider the degree of safety of access which is 1442 appropriate to these old buildings, for which no counterpart exists in industry.
The duties under the regulations could place a heavy burden on the farmer, and, to a lesser extent, on the farm worker, and I feel that the right approach must be to common sense. Any regulations issued must be specific and clear-cut, so that farmers and farm workers shall have no doubt of their meaning and purpose. If there is any doubt, there will be scathing and vivid criticism of the regulations, which, as they think, inevitably emanate from Whitehall.
I have discussed the analogy—or lack of analogy—between factory and farm with people who are concerned in the business of insurance, and there is no doubt of the practical need of factory laws of such definition that it is comparatively easy—although lawyers do not think so—to prescribe a safe system of working. We have people and raw materials going into a factory and coming out with a certain known product made under more or less constant conditions, but I defy anyone to prescribe a safe method of working on a farm or even a safe process, because there are so many different ways of achieving the same object. It is fairly easy to specify bad or dangerous practices, but not so easy to give positive directions, and we want to achieve safe working conditions for farmers and farm workers without creating a paradise for lawyers.
With regard to insurance, it is not easy to get reliable statistics, or, at any rate, detailed statistics. The consensus of informed opinion appears to be that about three-quarters of our farms have this form of insurance against civil liability for injury to employees. Most big farms are covered like the big firms in industry, but a lot of small family farms do not seem to take out insurances against this risk of liability for injuries sustained on the farm. It is not sufficiently realised by small farmers, first, that they may run a great financial risk in having a fatality occur to one of their employees, and, secondly and still less, that the farmer's own son who is working for him may in law be insurable, provided that the farmer takes out a policy.
I hope that when the Bill becomes an Act, small farmers will take great care to see that they are covered. The risks being greater, the premiums are likely to 1443 increase from their present figure of between 6s. and 7s. 6d. per £100 of wages to, possibly, 10s. We do not know, because we do not know the extent of the new duties nor, indeed, the incidence of accidents that may follow the passing of regulations to be made under the Act.
An accident to a farm worker is very serious, because, unlike the factory worker, if he suffers any permanent disability there is nothing like the same range of alternative or light employment in the countryside. A fatality is not only a disaster for that particular family, but it casts gloom over the whole village community which is closely associated with what is often the only local industry. The other person who deplores any accident to a worker is the farmer himself.
Most accidents, as I tried to indicate, arise from a lack of imagination and knowledge as much as anything else. Today's big crops have to be harvested swiftly. The output per man is much greater and the speed at which every movement goes forward is very much faster than it was fifty years ago. One hopes that the Bill will give an impetus to the consideration of safety and the identification of danger so that each year, at the end of the season's work, we shall add extra meaning to the familiar words of thanks that "all has been safely gathered in."
§ 8.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Thomas Fraser (Hamilton)
The Minister will have no complaint with the reception which the Bill has had in all quarters of the House this afternoon. For some years I have had the privilege of participating in discussions on agriculture Bills and, indeed, of helping to pilot them through the House. Most of those Bills were non-controversial, but I cannot remember one which was as non-controversial as this.
The Minister will have noted that every point made throughout this interesting debate has been a Committee point. He will agree that that is inescapable in a Bill of this kind, which is purely an enabling Bill. Today, there have been two excellent maiden speeches, one by the hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. J. Lindsay), and the other by the hon. Member for Honiton (Mr. Mathew).
I have just said that this is an enabling Bill. I well remember heated discussions on Bills which were only enabling Bills 1444 and the great criticism which came from hon. Members who now sit opposite and who always complained so bitterly that the Labour Government in the days between 1945 and 1951 brought forward legislation to enable a Minister to legislate further by regulation. The business of delegated legislation was anathema to hon. Members opposite, but today there has been very little criticism of the Bill on the ground that it is only an enabling Bill.
Some hon. Members opposite have suggested that Clauses 16 and 17 should provide for the affirmative rather than the negative Resolution procedure, and I think that they are right. I am not complaining about it, but Parliament is being denied the opportunity of framing the provisions for determining the safety, health and welfare conditions of farm workers—although there is not much concerning health and welfare; we are dealing mostly with safety. We are not being given the opportunity of discussing in detail what sort of provision Parliament should make to protect the workers in this industry and, when giving these regulation-making powers to the Minister, it seems only right that we should ask him to employ the affirmative Resolution procedure, so that he can justify the regulations which he makes, many of which will be very important.
At the beginning of his speech the Minister said that every industry had a dual purpose: first, to serve the community and, secondly, to provide a decent livelihood for those engaged in it. He went on to describe agriculture as a most important industry. Agricultural workers have served the community well over the years, and they are still doing so, but I am not so sure that the industry has provided a decent livelihood for them. They are the least protected and the worst paid workers in the country, yet they are employed in what the Minister has described as the most important industry.
If one looks at the most recent official figures one finds that the agricultural worker was earning an average wage of £7 10s. 5d. for a 52-hour week, whereas industrial workers were earning £10 17s. 5d. for a 49-hour week—a disparity of £3 7s. weekly. It is small wonder that farm workers are leaving the land in such numbers. They would require a wage increase of no less than 1445 44 per cent. to give them parity with industrial workers.
Just as they need more wages, so they need greater protection. The Minister, the Secretary of State for Scotland and their junior Ministers will derive very great pleasure in putting the Bill through its various stages. It is also a Bill which the National Union of Agricultural Workers regard as the culmination of twenty years' agitation. Before the war they believed that they had achieved their ambition of obtaining some protective legislation for themselves, but war came in 1939 and the whole thing had to be set aside. It was not further considered until the Gowers Committee was set up in 1946.
The industry had high hopes again, some months ago, when my hon. Friend the Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies) introduced his Private Member's Bill—the Non-Industrial Employment Bill—in the dying days of the last Parliament. They were very delighted to learn that one part of the Bill was devoted to safety, health and welfare in agriculture. That Bill was more positive in its approach than this, and was more precise in what it sought to do; perhaps it was too precise. The agricultural part of the Bill was most acceptable to the workers' unions, and I am told that they were a little disappointed to find that this Bill fell so much short of the other. None the less, they are not at all ungrateful for what is provided in the Bill, and are most mindful of the fact that the Bill goes further than was recommended by the Gowers Committee in 1949.
Just as the Minister will feel pleased with the reception given to his Bill, so I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Gooch), when he reads what has been said about him in the debate, will feel that it has been almost worth while not being able to be present here today. There have been some warm and well-earned tributes paid to him, and we all genuinely hope that he will be restored to health soon and be able to be with use during the later stages of the Bill.
The principles of the Bill, of course, are readily acceptable on both sides, though there has been some reluctance here and there to accept this, that or the other question that might arise. I feel sure that the Government will agree that 1446 the Bill can be improved when we get to the Committee stage. There are certain precautions which should be made mandatory in agriculture as they are in other industries.
Some reference has been made to Section 14 of the Factories Act, 1937, which is stronger than Clause 1 of the Bill. Although agriculture cannot, for reasons given by the Gowers Committee, be compared strictly with our factories, none the less Parliament should clearly lay down that fixed plant and machinery on farms should be railed and guarded in the same way as is that in factories. When he makes regulations I am sure that the Minister will make that quite clear, but in relation to factories that is made clear by Section 14 of the Factories Act itself.
The Gowers Committee said quite a lot about the need to protect workers against sprays, fertilisers and the like by protective clothing, and so on. It is true that since then we have had the 1952 Agricultural (Poisonous Substances) Act, but I do not think that that covers all the ground with which the Gowers Committee dealt, and there is need to ensure that regulations are made under Clause 1 to deal with them. One does not want to have the Minister making regulations that are quite impracticable, that cannot be operated and that farmers and farm workers will disregard every day of the week, but plenty of evidence was given to the Gowers Committee as to the need for protective legislation.
One thinks of the increasing use being made of sprays and fertilisers, weed killers, etc., and of the fact that many of them are most injurious to clothing and are still administered by hand. They may well be the cause of dermatitis, referred to earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Hayman). The Bill should make clear that the Minister has power to deal with such matters when making regulations. It is not clear from a present reading of the Bill that he has those powers.
Another point that I would stress here is the need to ensure that regulations can be made under the Bill to deal with the better lighting and better floor draining of farm buildings, particularly in byres, cowsheds, milking parlours—call them what one will. Many accidents have been caused in such places by faulty lighting 1447 and by bad drainage of floors, and since there are so many things listed in Clause 1 (3) one wonders whether the things not listed will be excluded merely because of that. We would be delighted if we could have some information about it tonight from the Joint Under-Secretary of State, for we must make sure before the Bill leaves this House that those things can be provided for in the regulations which the Minister will be able to make.
I should like to pass on to Clause 1 (5) relating to certificates of exemption. It would seem that the Minister, and not the local inspector, should decide this matter. It would seem that only in that way would we get uniformity. Just as we should give full opportunity to a farmer to make his case for a certificate of exemption, so we should give the workers' representatives an opportunity of making a case against the granting of a certificate of exemption.
In Clause 3, for instance, we give employers the right to go to the court to object to notices requiring certain works to be carried out. It is right that they should have some opportunity of objecting to such notices, but, equally, the workers' representatives should have some right of representing to the sanitary authorities and to the Minister that such notices should be issued. We should give the employees the opportunity of representing the need to take action under the provisions of this Bill, just as we give to the employers the right of showing good reason why certain provisions of this Measure should not be applicable to them.
Reverting to the question of the certificates of exemption, I would be obliged if the Joint Under-Secretary could say a word about the circumstances in which he and his right hon. Friend envisage that certificates of exemption will be granted.
I should like the Under-Secretary to tell us why he and his right hon. Friend do not agree that the Minister and the Secretary of State should have default powers if the sanitary authorities do not carry out the work which the Bill envisages they should do.
There has been much too light-hearted an approach to the question of lifting excessive weights from some hon. Members who say that it all depends on the person. It does not depend on the individual at all. No one will say that it should be an offence for a farm worker 1448 to lift a piece of machinery which may weigh 2 cwt. or even more, but we would all agree that farm workers ought not to be required to lift and carry weights which are beyond their ability and the carrying of which would injure their health.
This matter was considered some years ago by the Gowers Committee, which reported that agreement had been reached in the industry that weights in excess of 1¼ cwt. would not be carried. But we all know that weights greatly in excess of that are still being carried. It seems to me that Clause 2 is concerned only with young persons carrying excessive weights, and surely we ought to give some thought to the older persons in the industry, to those of 50, 55 or 60 years of age, many of whom, we have been told, suffer from rheumatism and other similar complaints. Surely we should protect them.
There seems no reason at all, nowadays, that we should not have regulations providing that sacks shall not contain more than 1 cwt. I am reminded by my hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton (Mr. J. T. Price) that it is illegal to put excessive weights on a horse; but apparently it is not illegal to put them on a human being.
This is not a matter for agreement between farm workers and employers in the agricultural industry. The weights carried by farm workers are not usually decided by their employers; they are frequently decided by the millers, the merchants and the producers of seeds, fertilisers and feeding stuffs delivered at the farm. It seems to me that if regulations were made laying down that the weight shall not be in excess of 1 cwt., then sacks would have to be filled to a weight not in excess of 1 cwt. I hope we shall be able to deal with that. Indeed I go further; it seems to me that we could without difficulty write into the Bill a maximum weight beyond which no worker should be allowed to carry sacks and allow the Minister to make regulations dealing with young persons, old persons and disabled persons, within the limits of 1 cwt.
§ Air Commodore Harvey
We are all in agreement that sacks may be too heavy, but sacks are not the only things which have to be lifted. For instance, two or three men may have to handle a 1449 barrel of molasses. It is difficult to legislate for everything. In principle, we agree with the hon. Gentleman, but I hope he appreciates that many other things besides sacks have to be lifted, some of which it is not possible to weigh before they are lifted so as to see that one is complying with the Act.
§ Mr. Fraser
I appreciate that, but if we are to have regulations the Minister can specify sacks if he likes.
It is true that we cannot prevent a worker from lifting what hon. Members may feel is an excessive weight, but if he is given protection by Act of Parliament then he cannot be required to lift an excessive weight, and it is up to us to protect the worker in that way. We do so in many other industries and I do not see why we cannot equally protect the worker in this industry.
I notice that the Threshing Machines Act, 1878, and the Chaff-Cutting Machines (Accidents) Act, 1897, are to be repealed forthwith on this Bill becoming an Act. Surely that is a mistake, because if they are repealed immediately the Bill becomes an Act there will then be no legislation on the subject at all. The Bill merely gives the Minister regulation-making powers, so that no legislation will be in existence between the repeal of the existing Acts and the making of regulations. I am sure that I am right about this and that the Minister does not wish these existing enactments to be repealed until such time as he is able to make a set of regulations under this Bill which will supersede the provisions of the two Acts I have mentioned.
There has been some discussion on Clause 9, which deals with the appointment of inspectors. The first point I note about the Clause is that it appears that the number of inspectors to be employed is to be determined by the Treasury—an extraordinary thing. I know that this was written into such old-fashioned Acts as the Factories Acts, but it was not the kind of provision written into the Mines and Quarries Act, 1954.
Clause 9 says:The appropriate Minister may, with the approval of the Treasury as to numbers, appoint such inspectors as he thinks necessary for the execution of this Act,The Treasury ought not to decide how many inspectors shall be employed. It is the Minister who will know how many 1450 inspectors are necessary for the execution of this Measure and he should be free to appoint such inspectors. One appreciates that he will pay them such salary as may be agreed with the Treasury. If we compare this Clause with Section 144 of the Mines and Quaries Act, 1954, we find these words in that Act:The Minister may appoint such inspectors … as he thinks necessary for the execution of this Act.…That is right; it is the requirements of the Act and regulations made under the Act which determine how many inspectors should be appointed, not the willingness of the Treasury to find a certain amount of money.
We were a little scared by what the Minister said about the appointment of inspectors. He said he believed that in the early days it would not be necessary to do more than to get the wages inspectors to add this duty to the duties that they carry out at present. I wonder whether the Under-Secretary of State can tell us how many wages inspectors there are in England and Wales, and how many there are in Scotland. I doubt very much indeed whether what we have all been contemplating today to be done under this Bill will be ably supervised by the wages inspectors. I doubt very much whether the wages inspectors are people qualified to be inspectors for the purposes of this Measure. I hope that the Joint Under-Secretary will be able to say a word or two about those matters.
We have discussed the protection which is to be offered to children in Clause 6. I do not think that protection goes far enough. We are only saying in the Clause that children under 13 years of age shall not drive or ride on tractors and other prescribed farm vehicles. Children from 15 to 18 years of age are protected under the Children and Young Persons Act in relation to the kind of employment they can be given. The Bill seems to leave out completely children between 13 and 15 years of age. That is exactly the age at which children will drive tractors and the age at which, I regret to say, children drive tractors to the danger of other persons working on farms.
I have listened to word pictures of scenes in the countryside about children riding on farm implements. It has been said that this is a matter for the farmer and the farmer's wife, or for the parents of the children, who should exercise 1451 common sense and take reasonable care. That is so at present but, in 1954, 20 children under 15 years of age were killed by riding on tractors, and so on, on the farms. That is not the end of the story. As those speeches were made I turned up a cutting I had from the Land Workerof October, 1955, and read the story of three fatal accidents caused by boy drivers.
It was not the boy driver in each case who was fatally injured. In the first case, it was one of two workers walking along the roadside when the boy driver, unable to control the vehicle properly, overturned it into the ditch and the machine went on top of the worker, who was fatally injured. In another case a worker was killed because of the faulty driving of a tractor by the son of the employer, and the employer was on the tractor at the time. Those accidents happen and they are avoidable accidents. We ought not to encourage youngsters of immature years to drive these lethal instruments—because that is what they are. We ought to protect the children and we ought to protect the other workers who have to be nearby while these youngsters drive tractors or otherwise manipulate what can be highly dangerous machinery, machinery which is the subject of quite considerable protection and precaution elsewhere than on the farms.
In factories, mines and other places, mobile machinery is employed and its drivers are restricted in what they can do. Employers are restricted in the age at which they can put people on to these machines and there seems to be no reason why employers in agriculture should not be equally restricted in the age at which they can put young people on to the handling of such machines. In the interests of the children and of the other workers on the farms, regulations ought to be made under Clause 6.
Sanitary arrangements have been discussed under Clause 3 and the Minister has been asked why, in England and Wales, the sanitary authority should have responsibility for sanitary conveniences and the Minister responsibility for washing facilities. Having read Clause 3, I turned to Clause 22, which applies the Bill to Scotland and provides a new Clause in place of Clause 3. In Scotland, I find, it is the local authority which is 1452 to exercise all the powers for sanitary conveniences and washing facilities. I should like the Under-Secretary, when replying, to explain this difference.
Why is the sanitary authority to be responsible for sanitary conveniences and the Minister responsible for washing facilities in England and Wales, when, in Scotland, the whole job is to be given to the local authority? Can the hon. Gentleman also tell us, although, obviously, this is a matter to be further discussed in Committee, what steps will be taken to ensure uniformity of practice in the requirements imposed upon farmers in these conditions?
Let none of us think that there are not many accidents on farms. The records show that there are about 24,000 to 25,000 accidents a year and that the percentage is higher than in a good many of the industries now covered by the Factories Acts. We also make the interesting discovery that the time lost from work as a result of accidents is greater in agriculture than in other industries. This is because such a large number of the lesser accidents, which in other industries would be notifiable or reportable, are not notifiable in agriculture. Only the more serious accidents are notifiable. This can be the only reason for the longer absence from work as a result of accidents in agriculture than in other occupations and industries. The requirement in the Bill, therefore, for the keeping of records will no doubt result in there appearing to be more accidents in agriculture after we have passed an Act to provide for the safety, health and welfare of agricultural workers, for details will be provided in a way that we have not had them in the past.
We are all anxious to get on to the next stage of the Bill. We all appreciate that agriculture has been long neglected in these respects. Many other things must be done for agriculture, and particularly for agricultural workers, before we can be satisfied that they are getting a square deal. The Bill is limited in its intention and all of us will be most anxious to make our contributions to improving it as best we can, so that we might give to the workers in agriculture the small satisfaction of knowing that Parliament is as interested in their health and welfare as it is in the health and welfare of other workers.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Niall Macpherson)
I am sure that the House as a whole will have been very gratified by the debate, and I should like at the outset to express on behalf of the Government their appreciation of the way in which the Bill has been received. As the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) indicated, this has been a very wide-ranging debate, covering a great many matters, many of which, as he rightly said, are Committee points. I shall deal with as many as I can in the time available. I hope the House, and especially hon. Members who have raised them, will forgive me if I am not able to deal with them all.
First, I would join with the hon. Member for Hamilton and with other hon. Members in congratulating my hon. Friends the Member for Devon, North (Mr. J. Lindsay) and the Member for Honiton (Mr. Mathew) on their maiden speeches. They both made constructive and most notable contributions to the debate. They are hon. Gentlemen whom on personal grounds I should wish to congratulate, apart from the duty of one standing at this Box to congratulate hon. Gentlemen who have acquitted themselves so well in addressing the House for the first time.
It has been rightly said that the core of the Bill lies in the health and safety provisions which are to be carried into effect by regulations, and the big question in this debate on Second Reading is, "Is it right that we should proceed in this matter by regulation? It is noteworthy that there has been no suggestion from any part of the House that, as far as the health and safety provisions are concerned, we ought not to proceed by regulation.
The next questions are, what is to be the character of the regulations we are to make, how are they to be arrived at, and how are they to be enforced? Many of the regulations will be extremely technical in character. When there are technical regulations we might take the view that that is a suitable occasion to proceed by the method of the negative Resolution, not by the affrmative Resolution procedure.
We are also to proceed, when the Bill becomes law, by consultation. There will be detailed consultations with all those 1454 who will be concerned with the regulations. It has been said that in the long run this is a matter for the House itself, and that it is not sufficient that there should merely be consultations with those who are immediately concerned in the industry in question. That was the case my hon. Friend the Member for Carlton (Mr. Pickthorn) made very strongly.
There may be occasions, of course, when it may be desirable to introduce regulations at fairly short notice. As the House knows, one of the advantages of the negative Resolution procedure is that we do not have to wait for a Resolution to be passed before the regulations become law. The point has been made that that would not apply to Clause 17. I think that we would agree that there is more of a case for proceeding under that Clause by affirmative Resolution. That is a matter which we can certainly consider in Committee.
§ Mr. T. Williams
I was about to ask the hon. Gentleman if he would not mind considering this matter a little later on in the light of the fact that if it involves negative procedure, we cannot start to talk about it until after 10 p.m. If it is going to be as highly technical as the hon. Gentleman has indicated, that is a very solid reason for enabling the House to discuss it before 10 p.m.
§ Mr. Macpherson
I was about to say that the Government will be quite open to consider arguments on the whole question in Committee.
I was advancing reasons why we consider it desirable to provide for the negative procedure, as we have done in the Bill. I might go a little further and say that, as the House is aware, this is the second instalment of legislation giving effect to the Gowers Report. The first instalment was the Agriculture (Poisonous Substances) Act, 1952. That Act covers such substances as selective weed killers, to which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Angus (Captain Duncan) referred. If, as the hon. Member for Hamilton suggested, there are gaps, they can be filled either by that Act or by the Bill.
I would remind the House that the Agriculture (Poisonous Substances) Act was carried into effect and received the Royal Assent on 30th October, 1952. One 1455 thing which shows that the Government lost no time in getting on with the regulations under that Act, as it proposes not to do also in this case, is the fact that the first group of regulations under that Act was issued in March, 1953, and the second two months later. Regulations have been issued each year since then. The House may wish to take that point into account when it considers whether an affirmative or a negative Resolution is the more appropriate.
As I am well aware, the mere mention of the word "regulation" causes a shudder in the House. I noticed that even my intrepid friend the hon. and gallant Member for Horncastle (Commander Maitland) at least winced a little, if he did not pale, at the idea of these regulations. Apart from those requiring notification of accidents and certain diseases, and the keeping of records about them, regulations under the Bill will not entail the filling of forms to any extent. They will, of course, have to be read and explained to employees, and it is of the greatest importance that the regulations should be known, understood and followed not only by employers but by employees.
I remember the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion) saying in the course of the Second Reading debate on the Agriculture (Poisonous Substances) Act:It protects employees against the negligence of employers and, equally important, protects the employees against the consequences of their own possible neglect."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st October, 1952; Vol. 505, c. 941.]Something similar was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. J. E. B. Hill) today. Nothing was more impressive during the consultations which took place before the Bill was introduced than the insistence of trade union representatives that farm workers should be made aware of their obligations under the regulations when they are published.
A good deal of emphasis has been placed during the debate on the need for education. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for East Grinstead (Mrs. Emmet) said that the emphasis should be placed on education rather than on regulation. The Bill in itself does not provide for education, but there is a duty laid on employers to ensure that instructions are 1456 given in accordance with the regulations. For example, the hon. Member for Old-bury and Halesowen (Mr. Moyle) referred to the need for machine-mindedness, which undoubtedly will be encouraged in this way. My hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South made a valuable suggestion about publicising the safety provisions. The Government will have all these points in mind, which will contribute to the additional safety that will be conferred on farm workers.
Turning now to some of the specific points made, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) asked about lighting and drainage, and this point was also referred to by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Hamilton. In the view of the Government those points are fully covered under Clause 1 (1) and (2). For example, if machinery indoors is to be safe it needs adequate lighting, and that lighting provision is covered in this way. The powers in Clause 1 (3) are illustrative rather than restrictive.
The right hon. Gentleman also referred to the need for the presence of a trade union official at inquests, a point which can be considered during the Committee stage. Then he referred to exemptions. I think we should get this question in perspective. This provision more or less repeats a provision of the Agriculture (Poisonous Substances) Act and also Section 8 (4) of the Factories Act, 1948. The sole purpose of these exemptions is to enable new or possibly improved precautions to be carried out under proper supervision. In the course of those precautions being tried out, many of which will be in the form of experiments at research stations, it would be necessary to grant the appropriate exemptions in order to comply with the Act, as it will then have become. It is not proposed to go further than that in granting exemptions. We think it would be inappropriate, as being too inflexible, if we were to insist that only the Minister or the Chief Inspector or the Secretary of State should have the power to give these exemptions. So we think the inspectors can grant them where appropriate.
The next point referred to by the right hon. Gentleman was that of inspectors. He was concerned about their numbers and about whether they would have the necessary training and qualifications. As my right hon. Friend said, it is intended 1457 that inspection should be carried out by the wages inspectors. There are about forty-five of these in the two countries at present and we anticipate that the numbers will be raised to just under double under this Bill.
The wages inspectors, will themselves receive training in safety measures to enable them to deal with machinery and some inspectors will be recruited for technical training in agricultural machinery. In the Department of Agriculture for Scotland there are some machinery officers who were engaged in the Department's tractor service and they are available for consultation and inspection when required, but this will not be entirely limited to them. If there are any blatant infringements against the regulations, other inspectors will be able to note these and will properly draw them to the attention of the appropriate inspectors. I hope that assurance will do a good deal in removing any misgivings that may have been felt in this regard.
§ Mr. Hayman
Did we understand the hon. Gentleman to say that inspectors would receive technical training? Is it not the intention of the Minister to appoint professional engineers?
§ Mr. Macpherson
The position is, as I said, that there are some 45 wages inspectors whose task this is to be, and they will require to be trained specially for it. In addition, no doubt some of those who are to be recruited will be required to have the qualifications which the hon. Gentleman has in mind.
The hon. Member for Hamilton raised the question whether the Threshing Machines Act ought to be repealed forthwith. The House is in a cleft stick over this. It has to choose between repealing the Act forthwith or repealing it later by regulation, which I understand the purists do not very much like. As the Gowers Committee said, the Act is not really being enforced at present. It is a matter which we can consider in Committee. There are two views on it, as there are two views on many other matters in the Bill.
There was also the question in relation to Clause 9 (1) as to whether the Treasury should have to give approval to the appointment of inspectors. I think the hon. Gentleman knows the procedure in this respect perfectly well. I do not think the Treasury would be likely to 1458 decline to allow an inspector to be appointed, especially as we have fairly clearly in mind now what the requirements will be.
I turn now to what the hon. Gentleman said about the provisions relating to washing facilities. This is another matter upon which there are two views. Under the Factories Acts responsibility rests with the factory inspectors and not the local authorities. Under the Agriculture (Poisonous Substances) Act the responsibility lies with agricultural Departments, but there it is a matter of both washing and cleansing and not personal hygiene alone, and, as such, it is not a subject normally dealt with by local sanitary inspectors.
What has determined the difference is that in England and Wales the responsibility for the inspection of washing facilities on dairy farms lies with the Ministry, whereas in Scotland the responsibility already rests with the local sanitary authorities. We should be creating an anomaly in England and Wales by making local sanitary authorities responsible on farms other than dairy farms, and we should be creating an anomaly in Scotland by making the Department's inspectors responsible on farms other than dairy farms. That being so, the only way to avoid an anomaly is to have different provisions on the two sides of the border, and not for the first time.
§ Mr. A. Blenkinsop (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East)
Will the hon. Gentleman agree at any rate that this is a matter worthy of further consideration, possibly in Committee? From a practical point of view, it seems absurd not to have the hygiene problem looked after by one official.
§ Mr. Macpherson
I am tempted to say that, whether it is worthy or not, I am certain that it will receive further consideration. I agree that it is likely to be given further consideration and that it is worthy of it. I would only add that the industry in England and Wales seems to want the responsibility for facilities to lie with the Ministry, whereas the industry in Scotland accepts that it should lie with the local sanitary authorities.
The hon. Member for Edinburgh, East, whom I do not now see in his place, thought that this might account for the rather low Scottish expenditure. I can assure him that that is not so. The expenditure expected is roughly in line with 1459 the number of agricultural workers in Scotland compared with those in England and Wales.
I turn to the question of children. It has been argued as to the protection of children that, on the one hand, the Bill goes rather too far and that on the other, it does not go far enough. I thought that the remark of my hon. Friend the Member for East Grinstead—that on this question one had to have a sense of proportion—was probably what should be the guiding factor when we consider regulations in this connection.
My hon. Friend the Member for Windsor (Mr. Mott-Radclyffe) was concerned about how by regulations in fact we would prevent accidents to children. I am sure everyone would agree that if, by regulations, we could prevent even half the accidents, it would be well worth while, although I agree with those who have expressed some doubt in this matter that it will not be easy to frame the sort of regulations we want. The hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. J. T. Price) asked whether children were covered by Clause 6, even though not employed. The answer is that they are covered, even though they are not employed. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) asked whether children aged from 13 to 15 were covered. The answer is that they are covered under the Children and Young Persons Act, 1933, and the similar Scottish Measure of 1937 so far as byelaws can be made by local authorities under those Acts.
Many opinions have been expressed about first-aid. All those comments have been noted, and they will be carefully considered between now and the Committee stage. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Don Valley spoke about mobile first-aid boxes. One of my hon. Friends drew attention to the difficulty here which would be that one might not know exactly where the equipment had got to at the moment when it was most needed. We thought that the provision in the Bill was probably the best way of dealing with the matter but, of course, in this, as in other matters, we shall be very happy to make improvements if we can.
I should like to say a few words about sanitary conveniences. I thought that the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Dye) really put this question in its proper perspective. Indeed, I think that 1460 he hit the nail on the head when he drew attention to what was said in the Gowers Report. Perhaps I ought to remind the House of what was said. The Report stated:… we think that the average farm does in fact provide adequate and decent facilities, but in some places such as market gardens, fenland farms, and holdings where gang labour is employed there may be need for special facilities.…Again, in the final summing up, the Report said:Powers to be given to local sanitary authorities to decide the nature and extent of the sanitary accommodation to be provided on agricultural holdings where a need for special facilities exists.Of course, it has to be made clear by the local sanitary authority, if it gives a direction for fixed equipment under the terms of the Bill, that there are special circumstances and it must state what those special circumstances are. It would be easy to exaggerate the extent of this provision. We felt that there was a gap here that ought to be filled, but merely because there was a gap we did not wish to make a large provision quite beyond what was required or, indeed, beyond what would be practicable.
The question of weights is very important, as some 10 per cent. of accidents per year arise from the moving or lifting of excessive weights. The Government have noted very carefully what has been said by the hon. Member for Hamilton and others on this matter. As the hon. Gentleman said, there is nothing to prevent the prescription of maximum weights, and in fact the Woollen and Worsted Textiles (Lifting of Heavy Weights) Regulations do prescribe maximum weights to be carried by men, women and young persons. The maximum weight to be carried by a man is 150 lb. where it is compact, or 120 lb. where it is not.
In regard to the question of an advisory committee, I would agree with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Angus that there may well be advantages in the continuing field of dealing with machinery in having an advisory committee. There is nothing in this Bill that would prevent that advisory committee being set up.
My hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Sumner) raised a very important question on which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Horn-castle (Commander Maitland) touched 1461 first, and that is the question of compensation. The position is this. Under Clause 15, a breach of the Act or regulations will in general give rise to an action for a breach of statutory duty, but there is no reason why the special defence to a criminal charge in Clause 15 should constitute an exception to this general rule. In other words, the farmer may be liable for civil damages, even if Clause 15 relieves him of a criminal charge, and this shows to what extent the Bill will have an indirect effect in tieing together compensation and safety. It is a matter that requires the most careful examination, and I certainly could not deal with it in the last minute of my speech.
I should have liked to have dealt at greater length with the Scottish questions raised on this Bill, but I would say to the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East that Scottish questions in it are really identical with those arising on the other side of the Border, and that it is only in detailed matters of application that a difference arises. This is a Measure which is desired by all sections of agriculture, and we are confident that all concerned will co-operate in avoiding accidents on the farm and in the forest, and in improving conditions for the health and welfare of those who work on the land.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 38 (Committal of Bills).