HC Deb 29 May 1956 vol 553 cc69-91

5.15 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Niall Macpherson)

I beg to move, in page 14, line 9, at the end to insert: (6) For section (Power of sanitary authority to secure maintenance and cleanliness of sanitary conveniences) there shall be substituted the following section—

  1. " (1) Any sanitary convenience and any washing facilities available for the use of 70 workers employed on an agricultural unit in agriculture and any sanitary convenience provided in pursuance of regulations under section four of this Act shall be kept properly cleansed.
  2. (2) In the event of a contravention of the provisions of this section in relation to a sanitary convenience provided in pursuance of regulations under the said section four, the employer by whom it was provided, and in any other case the occupier of the agricultural unit, shall be guilty of an offence ".
This proposed new subsection is to take the place of the new Clause relating to the maintenance of sanitary facilities in England and Wales—the new Clause which the House agreed a little while ago. The hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) in Committee moved an Amendment which included a provision to make it compulsory to maintain and to keep clean sanitary facilities, and I undertook to march in step with the English Minister in this matter. This new subsection goes a little farther than the English provision because it applies to washing facilities as well as to sanitary facilities, because in Scotland local authorities have to supervise both, and it would certainly be rather odd if they had to supervise the keeping clean of the one and not of the other.

In Scotland there is no doubt where the responsibility lies. Therefore, it does not need to be specified. By Section 5 of the Agricultural Holdings (Scotland) Act the responsibility for maintenance is laid definitely on the occupier. The English Clause provides for notice to the person responsible requiring him to take the steps specified in the notice to maintain or clean a convenience. In Scotland the duty is laid on the occupier to keep the facilities clean. If he is in breach of that duty he is committing an offence and is, therefore, liable to prosecution without notice.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In page 14, line 13, at end insert: (7) In section ten for paragraph (b) of subsection (1) there shall be substituted the following paragraph— (b) whether there has been a failure to comply, as respects a sanitary convenience or any washing facilities on that land, with the requirements of section (Power of sanitary authority to secure maintenance and cleanliness of sanitary conveniences) of this Act ".—[Mr. N. Macpherson.] Motion made, and Question proposed. That the Bill be now read the Third time.—[Queen's Consent signified.]

5.17 p.m.

Mr. Gooch

Unfortunately, I was prevented from attending the House when the Second Reading took place, and I was also unable to attend the Committee on the Bill, for I was in another place, Westminster Hospital, where I was concerned for the health and welfare of a particular individual. However, I have had the opportunity since of reading in the OFFICIAL REPORT the speeches delivered on Second Reading and in the Committee, and I want to thank my right hon. and hon. Friends on this side of the House for having moved what I regard as very useful Amendments.

The Bill is the culmination of years of representation on the part of the National Union of Agricultural Workers. Some protection for the men who work on the farms was needed when machinery was on a modest scale, but there has been a tremendous increase in mechanisation on the farms, and that makes protection and the Bill more necessary than ever. I know very well indeed that the Bill itself cannot prevent accidents from occurring, but it certainly can ensure that safeguards are provided and can give power to enforce safeguards. During the years in which I have been agitating for such provisions as these to be made, I have continually had to meet the objection that the Factories Acts cannot be applied to agriculture because we cannot run a farm like a factory. On the farms today men are called upon to handle machines without safety devices, and such circumstances would not be tolerated in any factory. All that the National Union of Agricultural Workers has asked for is set out in the Explanatory Memorandum of the Bill which states: Provide for securing the safety, health and welfare of persons employed in agriculture and certain other occupations and the avoidance of accidents to children arising out of the use, in connection with agriculture, of vehicles, machinery or implements; and for purposes connected with the matters aforesaid. I believe that a real endeavour has been made to bring those general purposes into effect.

I hope that the purposes of the Bill will be achieved and that the regulations to be made for securing the safety and health of the workers in agriculture will be such as to afford the kind of protection to which many of us have thought for long they are entitled. What effects automation will have on farming, I cannot say, but great advances have been made in agricultural science during the last few years and the scientists have shown us how to stimulate growth and increase production. But nature is in almost supreme control. I like fine weather, as do most other people, but was glad that it was raining when I left home this morning. Had there been no rain, many of our crops would have been in a poor way.

The farming community is up to all sorts of tricks today in an endeavour to increase production. We deceive the hens to get them to lay more eggs, but, whatever surprises automation and press-button farming have in store for us, I still say that the skilled farm worker will be required in, I hope, large numbers. It is those workers about whom we are very much concerned and who are entitled to the protection given by the Bill generally.

I join in extending thanks to the Minister for introducing the Bill. If there was any doubt about the necessity for such a Measure I think that doubt was dispelled when my hon. Friend the Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies) introduced his Private Member's Bill. That Bill secured a Second Reading despite the suggestion by the Minister that it should not be given a Second Reading. I think that the introduction of this Bill is due not only to the influence of my hon. Friend the Member for Leek in introducing his Private Member's Bill, but to other influences which have been in evidence for some time past to get some Government to introduce such a Measure.

The Bill is a measure of justice—long overdue justice—to the men who work on the farms. It is many years since I for the first time was a member of a deputation to a Minister for the purpose of asking for safety regulations on farms. If my memory serves me right, it was a deputation to the Home Secretary of the day—Sir Samuel Hoare as he then was and now Lord Templewood, a distinguished constituent of mine. Of course, when Sir Samuel Hoare knew that I came from the same county as he did, he listened to all I had to say and I thought that I was getting somewhere; but all we got was what we expected to get, nothing but sympathy.

I regard this as a very happy day. I sometimes disagree with the Minister, but I want to say in his presence that we are still very good friends and that I have a great personal admiration for him. My quarrels are not with the right hon. Gentleman, but with the policy of his Government. So far as my dislikes of that policy are concerned, they will continue until both the policy and the Government disappear. In piloting the Bill through the House the Minister has earned full marks, which I am very pleased to give him. I hope that the Government last long enough for the right hon. Gentleman to round off his good work by giving the agricultural worker not only protection on the farm, but also protection in his cottage home. I know I shall be told that that has nothing to do with the Bill, and I quite agree and will anticipate the objection, but if the right hon. Gentleman decided to give protection to farm workers in their homes it would indeed be a day of great rejoicing for the rural community.

5.26 p.m.

Mr. Amory

Before the Bill is given its Third Reading, I should like to say one or two words of valediction. I will start by saying how glad we all are to have the hon. Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Gooch) with us today and to have had the chance of listening to him speaking of the agricultural industry of which he has had a very long experience. I am sure that we are all extremely pleased that he was sufficiently restored to health to join in the jubilee celebrations of the trade union of which he is president. With the possible exception of one or two sentences towards the end of his speech, I agree with almost everything he said.

The Second Reading debate made it perfectly clear, I think, that the aims and objects of the Bill were such as had the warm support of the whole House. It remained for us to study the proposals in detail and to try to introduce improvements which would have a wide measure of agreement. It was always my strong hope that when the Bill was introduced we should find a wide measure of agreement, because it seems to me that a matter of this kind depends for its effectiveness or otherwise on whether the recommendations have the broad support of public opinion both in the industry and outside.

I believe that as a result of our discussions the Bill has been improved in detail without losing the broad measure of agreement. That is due to the practical contributions made by hon. Members on both sides of the House during its various stages, and I wish to thank hon. Members who joined in our deliberations upstairs for the very reasonable, good-humoured and non-contentious spirit in which the discussions were held and for the constructive suggestions made. Those discussions were an example of how we succeeded in beating our swords into ploughshares; at any rate for the moment.

I was impressed with the appreciation shown by hon. Members of the practical differences that exist between agriculture and the general run of other industries. We are fortunate in having in this House a fund of agricultural knowledge which is something that any prudent Minister of Agriculture is bound to treat with profound respect and, I think, with gratitude. That knowledge revealed itself during our discussions in a realisation that our task was not simply to apply the Factories Acts procedure to agriculture, but to test what was desirable against what was practicable and sensible.

The alterations made in the Bill during our discussions have, I think, been sound rather than spectacular, and I will recapitulate only two or three of them. As now proposed, the safety regulations under Clause 1 and any orders extending the scope of the Bill under Clause 17 will be subject to the affirmative Resolution procedure, as also, of course, will any orders made under the new Clause, which we debated today, for preventing overlapping with the Factories Acts.

That meets a wish expressed by the whole Committee upstairs. I am glad that we have found a way to meet it. Provision has also been made extending the power to prescribe first aid requirements, for the maintenance and cleansing of sanitary facilities, and for avoidance of overlapping the Factories Acts.

I am under no illusion that by passing the Bill we are automatically achieving our objectives. The Bill remains an enabling Measure. It opens the road to our objective but does not carry us to it, and it has been apparent at all stages of the Bill that hon. Members have realised that everything will depend in this case upon the regulations that are made. Again, I should like to assure the House that I mean to set about this task in earnest and to ensure that the regulations that will be made, after consultation with all the interests concerned, as is provided in the Bill, shall be effective and sensible.

During our discussions we learned many interesting things. The hon. Member for Meriden (Mr. Moss) and I both recalled that in days gone by we had fallen into serious trouble on farms, and the hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. P. Wells) warmed my heart by telling me that a great deal of his energy was consumed in the task of defending the Minister of Agriculture from certain alleged attacks. I am glad to see the hon. Member looking so robust in health after the Recess. It is clear to me that he has not found it necessary, to spend any energy recently on that task.

I should like to pay a wholehearted tribute, which I am sure will be supported in all parts of the House, to the industry with which we are concerned. I am sure that this tribute is well deserved. I have had experience of a number of industries during my life, and I say without any fear of contradiction that I know of no industry where there is such a high sense of mutual responsibility between those working in it as there is in agriculture. I know of no other industry where relations between employer and employed are so close and so intimate, and I know of no other industry where the workers show a more conscientious attitude to their job. That is a testimony, with which I am sure the whole House will agree, to all concerned—employer, employed and the trade unions.

Pride in one's job, in my humble opinion, is an absolutely fundamental element to efficiency and also to happiness, and pride in the job is more widespread in agriculture than in any other industry I know of in the country. I have said before that I am convinced that we are fortunate in having the best farm-workers in the world, and I have had no reason to change that opinion during the time I have been Minister.

In these circumstances some people ask whether the provisions in this Bill are necessary. I am sure that they are. The number of accidents which have taken place in recent years should alone give us grounds for no complacency. I suggest that we should look at the matter in this way—that if it is true, as I believe it is, that workers in agriculture are conscientious, adaptable and responsible to an exceptional degree, there is a special responsibility upon us to ensure that they have the advantage of the fullest protection that is practicable against risks to health and safety.

In providing such protection, we have endeavoured to keep a sense of perspective and to avoid imposing upon employers, who in agriculture show a full sense of responsibility to their workers, obligations which would be unnecessary or impracticable. I believe that in the Bill we have struck the right balance, but I am sure that the House will agree that legislation and regulations by themselves will not attain the objective which we have in view. The value of the Bill is that it stresses the importance that Parliament attaches to these things, that it sets standards which, if necessary, we shall not hesitate to enforce. and that it provides a foundation upon which, with good will and general agreement, still more can be accomplished by voluntary action, reinforced by training and common sense. I regard this as a useful and sensible Bill and I commend it to the House, confident that it will decide to give it an unopposed Third Reading.

5.36 p.m.

Mr. Willey

In associating myself with the kind remarks the Minister has made about my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Gooch), I would also congratulate my hon. Friend upon seeking the opportunity of speaking by way of preface to the right hon. Gentleman. I can only assume that the right hon. Gentleman was so amazed at being told of his "weakness upstairs" by his hon. Friend the Member for Carlton (Mr. Pickthorn) that he delayed his intervention in our debate. I do not want to speak by way of recrimination. Recriminations are tolerable only when they lead to effective results. Therefore, I will say nothing about the prolonged period of gestation which the Bill has suffered.

I join with the right hon. Gentleman in expressing our appreciation of the importance of this Bill. It is important for two main reasons. First, it recognises human values in the agricultural industry. It is true that this is an industry in which, because of the small units, there are good human, personal relationships. It is especially on that account that we should take this opportunity of ensuring that, as far as we the legislators are responsible, we shall afford within the industry a proper recognition of the dignity and value of those who work in it.

Secondly, I emphasise again that by means of the Bill we recognise the status of agriculture within our economy and ensure that, recognising the difficulties of the industry, we are legislating to provide that it will not be handicapped in comparison with other industries. This is a matter of considerable importance when we are calling upon the industry to do all it can to help us in our present economic difficulties.

As the Minister said, this is an enabling Bill and its success will depend upon the success which he enjoys in drafting the regulations which will follow upon the Bill becoming law. I should like, therefore, to say a few words about the matters which will be affected by these regulations. We are still not completely satisfied with the question of inspectors. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will keep this very important matter under constant review. I would concede at once that it is not an easy matter. I appreciate the difficulties of the Ministry of Labour with regard to factory inspectors. I hope that the Ministry of Agriculture may bring some assistance to the Ministry of Labour by its experience in operating the Bill.

We must take a broader view of the work of the factory inspector. At the same time, I do not think that we are altogether satisfied with what the right hon. Gentleman said about inspectors. I hope that he will recognise that the good working and good relationships of the inspectorate with the industry are an essential part of the Bill.

I do not want to traverse the general points which we have discussed during our consideration of the Bill, but I should like to call attention to the substance of some of the matters which we on this side of the House would have discussed if some of our Amendments had been called. In other words, I wish to call the Minister's attention to the steps he can still take. Without arguing the case for the default powers, I hope the right hon. Gentleman will accept a continuing responsibility to the local authorities and see that his Department calls the attention of the local authorities to their powers to enforce the necessary standards.

Turning to another matter, the right hon. Gentleman has power to prescribe excessive weights. Frankly, I was discouraged by the remarks of the Minister in Standing Committee but I hope he will recognise that some advance has been made. Perhaps I stigmatised unduly the milling industry, for it has made some advance. Certainly it is in advance of the Minister. However, I hope the right hon. Gentleman will realise that he has a responsibility to ensure, either by regulation or by agreement, that the health of workers is not prejudiced by carrying excessive weights. By way of an aside, may I repeat that the efficiency of handling is invariably assisted by the regulatory provisions about heavy weights. Carrying them not only damages the health of workers unnecessarily, but it is not efficient so to handle goods.

Finally, again dealing with the matters we might have discussed, I hope the Minister will call the attention of local authorities to the experience of Norfolk in the employment of young persons. The experience of this county, which is one of the leading agricultural counties, could afford encouragement to other local authorities.

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that in all these matters consultation and agreement are essential. I hope that this can be encouraged by the consultation and agreement which followed the introduction of the Food and Drugs Act. Indeed, I am sure we can be equally optimistic in this sphere about the results of consultation. I am convinced that, if the right hon. Gentleman consults both sides of industry, we shall have an appreciation of the problems and difficulties and a genuine desire to go as far as is practically possible in present circumstances to ensure the safety and health of workers.

May I express our optimism that we can properly anticipate effective regulations resulting from this Measure which will not disappoint the expectations of my hon. Friend the Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies), who introduced his Private Member's Bill or, for that matter, the Joint Parliamentary Secretary. The hon. Gentleman is in a unique position, having served on the Gowers Committee of Inquiry, to satisfy not only himself, but the aspirations of his Committee, that their recommendations are practical, sensible recommendations which can be implemented.

Recognising the earnestness of the Minister, and assuring him that if he shows any relaxation in being earnest we shall be exceptionally earnest, we look forward soon to being able to discuss the first of those regulations which will transform the provisions as to the health and safety of those who work in this industry.

5.44 p.m.

Mr. Anthony Hurd (Newbury)

From the benches behind the Minister, I wish to support this Bill as it leaves the House. We owe a great debt of gratitude to the Minister for having persuaded the Cabinet that this was a right and proper Measure to bring forward at this time. I understand that there is strong pressure on the legislative programme, and so we have reason to be grateful to my right hon. Friend for getting this Bill well to the fore.

We also have cause to be grateful to Sir Ernest Gowers for the excellent preparatory work which he and his colleagues have done on so many occasions for this House. He gave us an excellent framework, which my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary played a part in shaping, on which we have been able to build.

We are able to proceed with good will because we have such a close partnership in the industry. It is heartening to find that the hon. Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Gooch) speaks with the same voice on agricultural problems as do we who are at opposite poles in politics but see with the eyes of commonsense what needs to be done in this great industry. Indeed, the prospect of this Bill being a useful Measure will depend on the commonsense of those who will frame the regulations and upon the commonsense of the people engaged in the industry as they observe them.

It is true that many farms are very small and rarely come under the eye of an inspector. Therefore, it is all the more important that all three partners in the industry should be fully aware of their responsibilities under this Bill—indeed under all Acts—so that, whether the inspector comes along or not, the purpose of Parliament in bringing forward and endorsing this Measure will be carried out properly, as I am sure will be the case.

Regardless of party, we all join together when it is a matter of supporting a Measure which will further the well-being and health of those engaged in agriculture. Conservative Governments have a good record in this respect. We often list such achievements at General Elections. I can never remember them, but I know they are in the party literature, and it is a formidable record. Here is another Measure to be added to that long list, and it is one in which we can take pride. I am sure that this will be a useful Measure, because it has the support not only of the National Union of Agricultural Workers, but also of the National Farmers' Union and of the County Landowners Association. I do not say that every Clause in the Bill is framed in exactly the way which all three of those organisations would have thought to be ideal, but broadly there will be support for applying this Measure. and we send it on its way—I do anyway—with our best wishes.

5.48 p.m.

Mr. Percy Wells (Faversham)

I also support the Third Reading of this Bill, although it does not go quite as far as many of us on this side of the House would wish. For instance, I am expressing the views of thousands of agricultural workers when I say how disappointed they will be that the Minister has not found it possible to write into the Bill something definite about the maximum weight of loaded sacks. For far longer than I care to remember agricultural workers have been agitating for this reform. Therefore, I can only hope that the Minister has not dismissed from his mind the appeal made to him in Standing Committee, but will implement it by means of regulation.

I doubt if there has ever been a reform which has been so generally accepted, so sympathetically looked upon by those directly concerned, which has been so persistently pursued, but has been so long delayed, as this reform.

My experience has been similar to that of the hon. and gallant Member for South Angus (Captain Duncan). When I have discussed the matter with farmers, they have agreed that the 1 cwt. sack would be an advantage. That seems to be the general opinion among those who are directly concerned in agriculture.

Mr. Hurd

It is 1½ cwt.

Mr. Wells

Anyway, that is the general opinion among agricultural workers and the best type of farmer. Twenty-five years ago when we urged this reform we were told—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I would point out to the hon. Member that it is not in order to discuss the regulations at this time.

Mr. Wells

I am referring to an Amendment which, unfortunately, was not called, and I realise that to that extent I am out of order. However, this is something which can be covered by the regulations made by the Minister. That being so. I should have imagined that I was in order, but, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, if you rule me out of order, I will bow to your Ruling.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

There will be an opportunity for such discussion when the regulations come before the House.

Mr. Wells

All I want to say on that subject is that the reason that we are now given for not accepting the proposal, that there are 13 million 2 cwt. sacks in existence, is similar to the reason given 25 years ago, and, unfortunately, such sacks are still being manufactured.

The Minister showed some sympathy about this in Standing Committee, and I appeal to him to have regard, when making regulations, to the information which has been given to him about the number of injuries which occur yearly in agriculture as a result of lifting heavy weights. The figures supplied to us show that 10 per cent. of the accidents on our farms result from the lifting of heavy weights.

5.53 p.m.

Major Sir Roger Conant (Rutland and Stamford)

In a few sentences, I should like to express a welcome to the Bill and congratulate my right hon. Friend. With many other hon. Members, I dislike in principle the idea of giving Ministers wide powers to make regulations, but in circumstances such as exist in agriculture it is the only practicable method by which there can be given to the industry, through legislation, the safeguards which other industries have enjoyed for many years.

Some hon. Members have suggested, I think rightly, that the Bill is long overdue. When one considers the very rapid advance in mechanisation in agriculture, and the new chemicals which are used, very often with little knowledge about them, one thing that always amazes me is the comparatively small number of accidents which take place. I think this shows to a very considerable extent the adaptability of those engaged in agriculture.

I hope that my right hon. Friend, when consulting the industry about the regulations, will pay particular regard to the manufacturers of agriculture machinery, many of whom live in my constituency. It has always seemed to me that agricultural machinery is potentially much more dangerous in many respects, or many types of agricultural machinery are, than machinery in a factory. Not only is it doing its job of thrashing corn or cutting grass, but it is moving across the ground at a very rapid rate.

The most dangerous of all—it has now become an agricultural machine—is the circular saw. Most farms, small as well as large, have circular saws, and some of those which I have seen do not seem to have very effective safety devices. That is a matter which needs very urgent attention by way of regulations. I am inclined to feel that a circular saw might have its own first-aid box.

On the whole, I feel that agricultural machinery is fairly safe. Accidents are nearly always due to the misuse of machinery, rather than to structural defects, and in other cases they are due to carelessness and ignorance. Accidents resulting from falling off stacks, the misuse of hay forks or—from which I once suffered—using very sharp knives with very cold hands cannot be the subject of legislation. Education, training and propaganda count for even more in preventing accidents.

While mechanisation has been producing, I suppose, many more accidents, nature has at any rate provided for the removal of one potential source of accident, when myxomatosis killed off the rabbits. It has always seemed to me that one of the most dangerous times of the year has been the last hour in cutting a field of corn, when the whole village turns out with every known lethal weapon, surrounding the field and getting nearer and nearer to the centre, and even the tractor driver often carries a gun balanced on the machine. Although I have often taken part in such parties, I have never seen an accident even to a dog. Perhaps many people will regret that such exciting events will not be possible any longer.

What is important now is to ascertain how we are to ensure that such regulations as are made under the Bill will really be carried out. I cannot feel that the appointment of large numbers of inspectors—I am glad that there will not be large numbers—will count anything like as much as securing the co-operation and sympathy of those on the farms who are concerned, the farmers and farm workers. I am sure that if, in making the regulations, my right hon. Friend bears that in mind, we shall find the Measure of real value in the long run in bringing down the accident rate on farms. I wish my right hon. Friend all success in making the regulations, and I hope the Bill will have a speedy passage into law.

5.57 p.m.

Mr. F. H. Hayman (Falmouth and Camborne)

I would join all other hon. Members in the House in congratulating the Minister upon getting the Bill to its last stages here. We hope it will have a speedy passage in another place. We are grateful to the Minister for granting us the affirmative procedure in dealing with the regulations to be made under the first Clause. We are all agreed that that is a great concession.

I hope that when the Minister comes to make regulations about weight lifting he will give careful consideration to the arguments that we put forward in Committee. I hope he will urge his colleague the Minister of Labour and National Service to ensure that he publishes his promised safety pamphlet on weight lifting by industrial workers within the time limit he set himself, which was the end of the year.

I should like to tell the Minister that yesterday I happened to be in Jersey, and I saw potatoes being packed and loaded. The predominant package was one of 72 lb.

Mr. Amory

Can the hon. Gentleman tell me how many potatoes he saw on their way here? I should like to know that.

Mr. Hayman

I am afraid my memory is at fault, but I gather that the shipment is up to schedule, although there is likely to be some delay owing to the difficulty of getting French labour, of which the right hon. Gentleman is no doubt already aware.

I wish also to refer to the question of making regulations under Clause 6 relating to accidents to children. The right hon. Gentleman admitted that he was suffering from schizophrenia about such a regulation in that the present provision covers children up to the age of 13, whereas what some of us desired was that regulations should cover children up to the limit of compulsory school attendance. If the accident rate should show that there is some danger in accepting the terms of the Bill, I hope that the Minister will consider introducing an amending Bill. I congratulate him and hope that the Bill will soon reach the Statute Book.

Mr. Amory

The Bill gives me power to make regulations about operating particular types of machines by young persons over the age of thirteen. For instance, if the evidence that it was dangerous for a young person between thirteen and fifteen to drive a tractor became overwhelming, it would be possible to make regulations to cover that, but we would need to have the evidence.

Mr. Hayman

I thank the Minister for that assurance. It is now on the record, as is the speech of his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Rutland and Stamford (Sir R. Conant) who drew attention to the dangers of agricultural machinery in certain circumstances.

6.0 p.m.

Mr. J. E. B. Hill

Today, we say "Goodbye" to the Bill and await the regulations. The regulations will minimise the danger, but not of themselves avoid accidents. Accidents happen because danger exists and someone comes into contact with it. Therefore the human element will remain all-important. When the Minister frames his regulations I hope that he will consider a very interesting report which has been published since the Committee stage of the Bill by the Institute of British Agricultural Engineers in which, in analysing ninety recent accidents selected at random from insurance companies, it was found that failure to take reasonable safety precautions caused 58 per cent. of the accidents; faults in design and lack of guards, 31 per cent.; unavoidable cases under normal circumstances, 9 per cent.; and unclassifiable, 2 per cent.

From that it is obvious that education and training can make the greatest immediate contribution. I hope that the Minister will use his powers under Clause 1 (3, h) for incidental, supplementary and consequential matters to stimulate his own Department, local education authorities, the unions within the industry, the manufacturers and all parties concerned to do all in their power to promulgate safety codes and provide facilities for instruction. If it is possible to make some up-to-date films to illustrate farm dangers, then so much the better, because nothing convinces so well as visible examples.

When the Minister devises regulations dealing with machinery, I hope that he will refer to this report and consult the machinery manufacturers and the British Standards Institution with regard to very important and practical recommendations to combat the dangers of mobile farm machinery. In the last analysis, the greatest protection will come from care based upon knowledge. When the Bill becomes law and the regulations are made, I hope that the Minister will quickly produce a popular manual setting out in simple language the basic provisions of the Act and the corresponding duties of employer and employee and add to it a clearly written and, if possible, illustrated guide to farm safety. There is immediate scope for reducing the number of accidents due merely to carelessness and ignorance and if the information is readily available and the regulations come forward quickly, then the Bill should get off to the very good start which it deserves.

6.4 p.m.

Mr. Dye

I should like to join with my hon. Friends who have expressed their appreciation to the Minister and to the Joint Parliamentary Secretary for piloting the Bill to its Third Reading. The Minister said that we have the best farm workers in the world. We have approximately 600,000 farm workers, but at the rate of decline of last year, when more than 30,000 left the land, it looks as though none will be left in twenty years.

The hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd) pointed out the Measures—he had forgotten the list which Conservative Governments had passed for the benefit of workers. It would be a very sad tale if, while these regulations for the benefit of farm workers were being provided, farm workers continued to leave the land at the present rate. The country would be the poorer for the loss not only of the men but of character and tradition. I hope that alongside the Bill will go something to ensure that we still have a large agricultural community and countryside worthy of the past.

The main reason for the Bill is obviously the greater rate of mechanisation in agriculture. Machines are made in factories and supplied for use on farms, so that clearly the key point is in the manufacture or design of new machines and the issuing of adequate safeguards plus careful instructions and directions for their use. The Minister said that he would have consultations in the near future with representatives of the trade unions. At least as important will be consultations with the machinery manufacturers about new machines and the obtaining of their advice and help in providing existing machines with adequate safeguards. After all, a home-made safeguard to an existing machine may be as dangerous as if the machine had no safeguards.

There will be a very big task, therefore, to see that existing machines, whether fixed or mobile, are guarded and that manufacturers and agricultural engineers are given guidance so that they can produce machines of the standards required by the Bill. Those seem to be very important steps, and they must follow the Bill and the regulations. If carefully drawn and properly distributed among farmworkers, the regulations should create accident-mindedness. If we can get that and the obvious commonsense attitude of avoiding risks in the use of machinery, plus machines, old and new, which are adequately safeguarded, the Bill can quickly reach its objectives.

I sometimes think that some of my hon. Friends, in talking about maximum weights to be lifted, are getting a little out of date. We need adequate appliances to lift heavy weights on farms. There is no reason why every load of corn should not be loaded by mechanical lifters. Far greater use should be made of mechanical power for lifting all weights, whether loads of manures coming in, or loads of corn leaving the farm, instead of the old-fashioned human muscle. If greater attention is given to that, the problem of maximum weights will probably quickly disappear.

Together with the regulations and the frame of mind of the workers there must also go the attitude of the employers towards safety devices. It is obvious that they, also, must adopt this new outlook towards the safety, health and welfare of the workers. I do not want to see the decline in agricultural workers continuing. For the future benefit of our country and the safeguarding of our food supplies more food needs to be produced, and it would be a good thing for our future and the long traditions of British agriculture if we could not merely keep the people we have upon the land at present, in better conditions of health, safety and general welfare, but add to their numbers in the next ten years instead of having a continuation of the decline which has occurred in the last five years.

6.11 p.m.

Mr. G. B. Drayson (Skipton)

I hope that the Bill will prove to be a useful and sensible Measure, as the Minister has said, although I am not able to agree wholly with the expressions of approval which have come from hon. Members on both sides of the House, because farmers in my constituency are not entirely satisfied with the Bill's provisions.

A powerful agricultural body—the Craven Tenant Farmers' Association—has written to the Minister and given him some of its views upon various Clauses. It says that it considers the time is inappropriate to introduce a Bill of this nature, and thinks that the Government have enough agricultural problems on their hands to occupy their time at present. Although at a number of meetings which I have had with farmers during the last few weeks they have appeared to be relatively satisfied—certainly with the Price Review—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Charles MacAndrew)

Order. The hon. Member cannot discuss that now.

Mr. Drayson

—nevertheless, they feel that the Bill could have been delayed until some of the more pressing problems had been dealt with.

This most enlightened and progressive body of farmers is doubtful about the estimated cost of the Measure; it thinks that it will be found to be rather more than is envisaged, and it also feels that the money could be better spent upon the farming community in some other direction. It particularly objects to the vicarious liability which the Bill imposes upon farmers, and says that cases will undoubtedly arise where a farmer will be guilty of an offence although he has taken every possible precaution—because, in his absence, a regulation has been broken. It thinks that the Bill should have contained a provision to exempt a farmer from liability unless he was present at the time, or expresses knowledge of the breach of the regulation. We shall watch the regulations with great care, in the hope that this point will be covered.

Further, the Association says that the farmers are tired of being harassed by inspectors and other officials, of whom they have had a surfeit during the past seven years. Farmers would agree that during the past six years, however, there has been a very considerable reduction in the number of inspectors, although they will read with interest that hon. Members opposite, during the course of this debate, have said that there are not enough inspectors, and that the Measure does not go far enough. We think that it goes quite far enough. I hope that the fears expressed by farmers in my constituency will be allayed when they see the regulations which the Minister brings forward when the Measure has reached the Statute Book.

6.14 p.m.

Sir Frank Medlicott (Norfolk, Central)

I am stimulated by the few words which have just been spoken by my hon. Friend the Member for Skipton (Mr. Drayson) to add a few sentences—before the Minister replies—in relation to the general attitude of farmers, at least in that part of the country with which I am familiar. I do not profess, and would not attempt, to speak with the experience and authority of the hon. Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Gooch) and the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Dye) who, not only by what they have said during the course of this debate but by their many years of endeavour in relation to this subject, have shown their intense interest in the welfare of agricultural workers. I know that they will be especially glad to see this step forward.

I am sure that I can, however, say a word on behalf of the farmers in Norfolk and other parts of East Anglia. Broadly speaking, they will welcome the Bill because, although officials, forms and similar matters are irritating, they are of little importance compared with the lives and limbs of the workers in our countryside. I am confident that farmers would agree with me that this Bill, for which so many hon. Members on both sides of the House have worked for so many years, will, if intelligently applied, lead to an improvement in the conditions under which farm workers do their valuable and indispensable work.

6.16 p.m.

Mr. Nugent

Perhaps I may add a final valedictory word before the Bill goes upon its way, and also thank the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) for his kind reference to my membership of the parent Committee—the Gowers Committee. I suppose that it is an unusual experience to have the privilege of taking part in moving legislation through the House as well as having been upon the original Committee. The real tribute is to Sir Ernest Gowers and the other members of the Committee—although it is true that I was DeputyChairman for about six months, during the period when this question was before the Committee.

We had a most valuable Committee and were greatly helped by the evidence given upon a number of occasions by the T.U.C., the union of the hon. Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Gooch), the National Farmers' Union, and many other bodies. I believe that the report which was produced was a realistic one, and I can certainly confirm that the spirit in which the House has dealt with the Bill, and in which it is now being finally completed at this stage, is just the spirit in which we tackled it—which was to try to achieve a right balance between the practical necessities of achieving a greater measure of safety and, where possible, health and welfare for farm workers, at the same time as not preventing the essential work of the farm from going on. That is not at all an easy thing to do and I would think that the way in which we have achieved it is a credit to the House and its great reputation as a place of entirely practical minds.

I believe that the apprehensions of my hon. Friend the Member for Skipton (Mr. Drayson) are not justified. I think that the majority of farmers welcome this Measure and recognise that the way in which we have dealt with the matter has been practical and sensible, and that it is absolutely right, despite all the difficulties, urgencies and preoccupations of the time, to make better provision for the safety, health and welfare of workers wherever we can. What we have done here is to bring forward an enabling Measure which gives my right hon. Friend the necessary powers to proceed by regulations, after full consultation, in any way that it may be done, to improve these particular matters.

I am entirely with my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, Central (Sir F. Medlicott) that farmers generally will welcome the Measure, and that it will set a general tone which will cause people to look the right way and consider where they can improve the general safety of these operations on the farm, which, by their nature, inevitably have a considerable element of danger. It is a question not only of machines, but also of livestock. A farm worker may have to deal with heavy animals, such as cows, weighing perhaps half a ton each, and such beasts may lurch, and tread or fall upon him and break a bone. Those dangers are there all the time.

Anything which we can do to cause farmers and farm workers to think in terms of safety wherever possible will be of great benefit to all concerned, both from the human and the economic point of view. It is in that spirit that my right hon. Friend will be proceeding with consultations to make the necessary regulations. In connection with the lifting of weights, my right hon. Friend will be considering the problem referred to by hon. Members opposite in just the same way.

If it be possible to introduce a greater measure of safety; if it be possible to reduce strains which are unnecessary, I am quite certain that my right hon. Friend would wish to do so. In this matter, as in others, we must proceed, by consultation, carefully to assess just what are the practical problems and what may be done practically and sensibly to relieve them.

I think that all that need be said has been said about this valuable Measure. May I pay a tribute to right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House who have helped in the passage of this Bill and say that I hope it will not be long before it reaches the Statute Book.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.