HC Deb 29 May 1956 vol 553 cc40-63
Mr. J. E. B. Hill (Norfolk, South)

I beg to move, in page 1, line 6, after "made", to insert: having regard to the circumstances of agriculture. The object of this Amendment is to meet legal difficulties which may arise in applying future regulations made under the Bill. I hope the Bill will make it clear that Ministers, in making regulations and judges in interpreting them, are expected by Parliament to keep in mind the circumstances of agriculture, so that whenever some special consideration is necessary owing to the fundamental differences between agriculture and other industries, that consideration will be duly given.

There seems to be no express recognition of that fact in the Bill. Yet all our discussions upon agricultural safety, whether on the Gowers Report or on Second Reading and in Committee, have emphasised that there are great differences, especial and unique, about agriculture which make it impossible to fit upon agriculture the whole of factory legislation. Indeed, the admitted difficulty of legislating in detail for agriculture has given the Bill its structure, making it an enabling Bill, with regulations to be made by the Minister covering practically every agricultural operation.

When it comes to drafting the Bill—and presumably the regulations under it —there is a natural and almost unavoidable tendency to borrow legal words and phrases from the Factories Acts. For example, Clause 1 gives the Minister very wide powers to make regulations, such as to provide safe places to work in and safe means of access thereto. The limit of his regulations, as the Minister has just mentioned, is that they must be "reasonably practicable".

One consequence of adopting the well-tried phrases of the Factories Act is that Parliament is presumed to intend that they shall bear the meaning already given to them in the courts. Thus, such words bring in their train a whole body of judicial interpretation and case law which have grown up under the Factories Acts against the background of other industries. Much of this, I believe, is considered not to be completely clear and satisfactory in relation to factory conditions. I think it might be even less clear and satisfactory if applied directly and without any qualification to agriculture.

As I understand, in any case there arises, first, a question of law as to what the duty of anyone is, be he employer, employee, or some other person. After that, it is a question of fact as to whether the duty has been carried out or not. So far as the wording to be used in subsequent regulations corresponds with that already in the Factories Acts, it seems that previous decisions on questions of law arrived at in factory cases, even if the facts themselves can be distinguished, will tend to be binding upon agriculture.

In discussion of this Clause upstairs I attempted to describe some of the difficulties which might follow if, for example, existing decisions on safety of access—arrived at under the artificial conditions of industrial employment concentrated in factory precincts—were applied strictly to the sparse but wide-ranging movement of farm workers making their way from field to field all over the farm in the natural conditions of the open air. That could produce rather anomalous results and impose a heavy burden on agricultural production without—this is the point—conferring any corresponding or sufficient benefit upon persons engaged in agriculture.

Hence, I believe that when we get down to bedrock and analyse some aspects of agriculture we may find that some of the duties of the employer or the employee perhaps ought not—or, indeed, cannot—be quite the same as under the Factories Acts. That may arise especially in regard to the new field of statutory liability which this Bill will bring in.

If that is so, it seems essential that there should be sufficient flexibility in applying the law to enable any such differences in agriculture to be taken into account. Even if I am mistaken, and examination should show that there is no need for any distinction, the fact that due regard has been deliberately taken of circumstances of agriculture will have made no difference to the final result except to reinforce it. That the difficulty, of possible overlapping and confusion, is real has been indicated sufficiently by the new Clause which has just been accepted giving power to exclude the operation of Factories Acts provisions where those provisions may overlap with regulations to be made under this Bill.

That seems to strengthen rather than to answer my argument because it implies that the regulations are likely to be analogous to the provisions of the Factories Acts. Indeed, it would be odd if they were not so. I want to emphasise that it is most desirable that many of the provisions of the Factories Acts and standards of safety should be adopted wherever appropriate in agriculture especially, of course, in relation to dangerous machinery.

I should like to see them adopted for their own merits, because we want them and have selected them, and not to find that we have to adopt some of them willy-nilly, as it were, by the operation of law. If they are adopted, I would hope that they would be applied, as this Amendment indicates, having regard to the circumstances of agriculture. That is to say, that judges shall not be bound too rigidly by what might have been decided in the context of urban industrial conditions, but shall be free to consider agriculture as a distinct industry, sui generis, severable from the rest. In that way we may be able to concentrate on the real and urgent dangers and build up a body of regulations and case law of our own, which will provide effective protection and command the attention and respect of everyone engaged in agriculture.

Captain J. A. L. Duncan (South Angus)

I beg to second the Amendment.

We are entering a new field in legislating for agriculture and trying to adapt the procedure of the Factories Acts to agriculture. In support of the Amendment, I would stress that the Gowers Committee, in paragraph 133 of its Report, said that agriculture was

an industry fundamentally unsuited to control by a statute of the character of the Factories Act. Any of us who knows the wide diversity of farming, from the croft in the north of Scotland to the large flat, rich, Lincolnshire farm, knows that it would be difficult to produce regulations which are to be fair and, at the same time, practical.

It is with that diversity that some of us are slightly worried about the entering of this new field. As my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. J. E. B. Hill) said, those who draft the regulations will have in mind Factories Acts regulations. If they follow those regulations too closely they will find themselves in practical difficulties simply because of the diversity of farming.

I hope that we shall keep in the forefront the fact that this is an agriculture Bill, as this Amendment seeks to do in practice by seeking to amend Clause 1. The fact that it is an agriculture Bill should be in the minds of everyone, not only judges, but Ministers and those who have to draft the regulations. This Bill is not, in fact, legislation; the real legislation will come from the regulations. It is to get those regulations right that we are pressing this Amendment in the hope that it will be acceptable to the Government.

Mr. Sidney Dye (Norfolk, South-West)

I listened with interest to the mover and seconder of the Amendment, which, it appears to me, is quite unimportant and innocuous, or is very dangerous. It can be very dangerous if the whole of the regulations which arise from this Measure have regard to this Amendment. The important words of the Clause are:

Provision may be made by regulations under this section for protecting workers employed in agriculture against risks of bodily injury or injury to health. Any qualification of those words must weaken the application of the Bill to protecting men and women engaged in agriculture. Either the persons engaged in agriculture are of the utmost importance or agriculture itself is the dominating factor, in which case the men must be subjected to dangers against which they cannot be protected by the regulations.

That seems to be the very dangerous implication of this Amendment. It seems to be the same kind of limiting factor as was placed on the agricultural wages boards in the early days, when the boards were limited to fixing wages according to conditions in agriculture—not according to the needs of the men employed or in comparison with people in other industries, but according to the circumstances in agriculture; and the same words are employed here.

4.0 p.m.

Therefore, I think it would be a mistake to include them. I feel sure that they would be regarded by the men engaged in agriculture as a limiting factor, and I also feel sure that most farmers would never want them. In these days, they are prepared to see that the health and wellbeing of the men must be the first consideration. We want to protect them in the cases where there are dangers arising out of modern machinery and conditions, whether it be the application of the various chemicals of one kind or another that are used in agriculture, or anything else. I feel sure that we must put the interests of the men first, and that agriculture will not suffer.

Mr. Gooch

When I first read the Amendment on the Notice Paper, I could not make up my mind what was the real objective of the hon. Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. J. E. B. Hill). One conclusion which I reached was that, if agriculture once again got into the doldrums, the opportunity would be taken to suspend the operation of the Bill when it had become an Act of Parliament. I am not so sure now that I was very far off the mark.

I want to say to my Member of Parliament, the hon. Member for Norfolk, South, that I do not think he is expressing today the feelings of the majority of his constituents who will be affected by the Bill. After all, the Bill is the very minimum that is given, and we are grateful for it. I suggest that the Minister should resist the Amendment and leave the Clause as it is. I am certain that the effect of an Amendment of this description would be to make the Bill fail in many respects. I therefore suggest to my Member of Parliament that he might withdraw the Amendment and allow the Clause to stand.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. G. R. H. Nugent)

I have no difficulty in accepting the spirit in which the Amendment has been put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, (Mr. J. E. B. Hill) and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Angus (Captain Duncan). The hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Dye) suggested to the House that the Amendment was either innocuous or very dangerous. I think the answer is that it is innocuous and intended simply to be explanatory.

I do not think it will surprise my hon. Friends if I repeat the arguments which I put to them in Committee, when we discussed a similar point on the Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill." My right hon. Friend and I have given careful consideration to this Amendment and whether it might help the operation of the Bill, but we feel that, on balance, these words are not necessary. Subsections (1) and (2) of Clause 1 contain not only the implications but actual provisions which include the kind of safeguards that are wanted.

The object, of course, is that the regulations shall have regard to the practical conditions in which agricultural work is being carried out, and that is why the Bill is drafted statutorily requiring my right hon. Friend to have consultations with all the various interested parties. In practice, it will undoubtedly be to the regulations that the courts will look in considering what the intention of Parliament was. I think that, in this connection, when one reads the Bill as drafted, one sees in Clause (1) that the regulations shall be such as to meet the necessity of the case as far as is reasonably practicable. The Ministers are bound to take into consultation all those who are interested, and, in these circumstances, I think that all the safeguards that can be made against the making of impracticable regulations have already been provided.

Finally, the regulations must be brought to the House, and, as the House may have noticed, it is our intention to move later an Amendment which will make this part of the Bill subject to the affirmative Resolution procedure. This ensures that the House will have a very full opportunity to see any regulations that are to be proposed under Clause 1, which certainly could go very far indeed. I think I can assure my hon. Friend, and also my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Angus, that what they fear here has really been safeguarded, as far as it is humanly possible to do so. Certainly, we wish to ensure that the regulations shall have regard to the practical conditions of agriculture and the problems of the case.

Mr. J. T. Price

With great respect, I am trying to follow the very temperate and balanced argument which the Joint Parliamentary Secretary is putting forward, but surely the purpose of this legislation is not only to provide greater physical protection and safety for the men working in agriculture, but also to give them for the first time equal rights before the law in cases of common law liability arising where men are injured.

I put it to the Joint Parliamentary Secretary in all seriousness that we are as much concerned about the man who is injured. Let me quote again the case of the circular saw. A worker on a farm is injured when operating a circular saw which is not properly fenced; we want to ensure that that worker is not in a less favourable position than a man working in a factory covered by the Factories Acts. It is this second sanction, namely, giving the worker legal rights under common law liability, which we consider as important as the question of physical safety in the industry itself.

Mr. Nugent

I take the hon. Gentleman's point, but the primary purpose of this Clause is the provision of safety measures and the making of regulations to that end. It is, of course, the intention of my right hon. Friend and myself to see that these regulations shall go as far as it is practicably possible for them to go to give the worker in the farming world all the protection we can, and to go as far as we can to give the protection which is given to factory workers by the Factories Acts. We all know that conditions are very different, and we have to take great care to see that the regulations that are made under this Bill are practicable. I fully sympathise with the anxieties of my hon. Friends, but I hope that they will be satisfied with that assurance and will withdraw the Amendment.

Mr. J. E. B. Hill

I should like to assure my distinguished constituent and friend the hon. Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Gooch) that the purpose of the Amendment was not a dangerous one. I merely hoped that it would avoid certain possible, but certainly not dangerous, legal anomalies which might follow. Having heard the reply of my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Willey

I beg to move, in page 1, line I5, at the end, to insert: (2) Without prejudice to the provisions of the last foregoing subsection regulations under this section shall provide— (a) that every dangerous part of any machinery used in agriculture shall be securely fenced and maintained in that condition unless it is in such a position or of such construction as to be as safe to every person employed or working on or near such machinery as it would be if securely fenced or it appears to the appropriate Minister that it is unnecessary or impracticable so to fence such dangerous part; and (b) that all ladders used in agriculture shall be soundly constructed and properly maintained. I am sure that the whole House will join with me in expressing regret that my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) is not able to be present this afternoon. I am sure we all appreciate that he has done as much as anyone for this great industry and those who work in it. I personally know that he attended our proceedings in the Standing Committee under considerable physical discomfort and pain. I am sure that everyone will join with me in hoping that my right hon. Friend will soon be back again with us.

This Amendment is one of considerable importance, but I shall move it more or less formally in order to allow the Minister to make a statement on the matter. By the Amendment, which is similar to one which we moved in Standing Committee, we are endeavouring to place fixed machinery and ladders in a special category, and to ensure that statutory provisions shall apply, apart from such regulations as may be made.

The Parliamentary Secretary assured the Committee that he would meet us on the question of fixed machinery by putting down an Amendment at this stage and that he would see whether he could take a similar course about ladders. I should like to assure my right hon. and hon. Friends that I am satisfied that the Minister has used his best endeavours to honour that undertaking and has tried hard to meet us, but for technical reasons has failed. He has failed largely because of the state of the agricultural machinery and the continued failure to recognise the necessity for safety provisions.

In considering such an Amendment as this, we have to recognise the present position and the right hon. Gentleman's difficulties and the fact that it would not be helpful, if indeed it were possible, to introduce into the Bill a provision such as that which we suggested in Standing Committee.

For those reasons, I want to say at once that, having had an opportunity of discussing this matter with the Parliamentary Secretary and seeing the advice which has been given to him, I was myself convinced that we could not attain the purpose which we jointly share. In those circumstances, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will assure the House that at the earliest opportunity he will introduce regulations and that, between now and the further consideration of the Bill in another place, he will consult the trade unions affected.

Mr. Thomas Fraser (Hamilton)

I beg to second the Amendment.

Mr. Amory

I should like to assure the hon. Member for Sunderland. North (Mr. Willey) that I share his sorrow, and I am sure the sorrow of every hon. Member, that the right hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) is unable to be with us today, and I should like to take this opportunity to say how grateful I was to the right hon. Member for the advice which he gave us, from his long experience, during the earlier stages of the Bill.

The Amendment would impose the duty of safeguarding, by regulation, the dangerous parts of all agricultural machinery. We had a discussion on this subject earlier during which we pointed out the practical difficulties of securing an objective with which we are all entirely in sympathy. As the hon. Member said, at that stage we gave an assurance that we would look very carefully and sympathetically at the possibility of doing something at least in the case of fixed machinery. I have known the most ghastly accidents occur from fixed machinery. I must say that at that stage I thought it would not be very difficult to find some words which we could put into the Bill. In practice, we have tried hard to do so, but have failed to find a sensible provision which we could put into the Bill.

The first reason why we have not been able to provide in the Bill for safeguarding all dangerous parts, even of fixed machinery, is that even the Factories Acts ran into trouble on this precise point. In that case they got out of the trouble by providing that regulations could be made modifying the provisions in the Act, and I am sure hon. Members will agree that that is not a very sensible thing to put into a new Bill. Secondly, they got out of it by providing in certain cases for automatic guards. Automatic guards are fine, but it takes a time to devise them, and there are practically no automatic guards provided for agricultural machinery. Although, of course, we shall work on those lines, it will take time before we are able to provide for automatic guards.

4.15 p.m.

The second reason is that in this field, as in the others, consultation is absolutely necessary before we decide precisely what to do. In this case there is great difficulty in defining fixed machinery. That may seem strange, but we have gone into the matter carefully. There is a greater difficulty still in saying which parts of machinery are dangerous parts.

I frankly hoped that, even though we could not provide in the Bill itself for the safeguarding of dangerous parts specifically, we might put a provision in the Bill making it mandatory that regulations should be made to deal with fixed machinery. There, again, I was surprised to find that I could not discover a way of doing it sensibly.

Mr. J. T. Price

The right hon. Gentleman is putting forward a construction of the Factories Acts which I am sure many of my hon. Friends would not accept. It is all very well to say that the Minister was given powers to make regulations modifying the requirements of the Factories Acts but the right hon. Gentleman is overlooking the major consideration that in the Factories Acts the duty on the employers is absolute to fence and maintain in a secure condition the fences on all prime moving parts of machinery. The only exception is in the case of licensed machinery attendants. I am puzzled by the right hon. Gentleman's references. I do not think he wishes to mislead any of us, but I do not think his argument is quite sound.

Mr. Amory

The hon. Member is an expert on this and what he says will carry great weight with me, but the advice which I have had is that, while the Factories Acts lay down that dangerous parts of machinery should be securely fenced. in practice if that were done it would mean that certain machines could not be used at all. If the principal moving parts were securely fenced it would not be possible to use the machine. For instance, if a saw were securely fenced one could not get the timber to the blade of the saw. They found a way out by saying that automatic guards would fulfil the obligation. In this case time will be required for us to see that such provisions as automatic guards are designed to deal with the dangerous parts of the machinery.

Perhaps I may come to the reason why we have failed to find a sensible way of including in the Bill a provision making it mandatory to make regulations of some kind. Our first obstacle, I was assured, was that there is a considerable difficulty in defining fixed machinery as against static machinery. Secondly, I was assured—this is perhaps a legal and technical difficulty—that it would be impossible, if we put in a simple provision of that kind, to determine at any given time whether the Minister had completely discharged his obligations.

Thirdly, I found to my surprise, when I looked into it, that the proportion of accidents which resulted from fixed machinery in agriculture as opposed to static machinery was very small indeed. I found that the proportion arising from static machinery was fairly considerable, but the question of definition here is extremely difficult.

I should like to repeat what I said at an earlier stage in the Bill—that we have every intention, after consultation, of making any provision covering fixed and static machinery which is found to be workable and practicable and which, in the light of the consultations, is generally supported. But I believe—and I think the hon. Member for Sunderland, North agrees with me. after the information which I gave him the other day—that the enabling power already in the Bill is probably the most sensible and best way of dealing with these cases. I believe that to attempt to put in mandatory provision here would be more likely to hinder than to help the object we have in mind.

In reply to the question asked by the hon. Member for Sunderland, North about the trade unions, I should like to give an assurance that between now and the time when the Bill is considered in another place we will have consultation with the trade unions on this point.

Mr. George Jeger (Goole)

The Minister has given us an explanation of his views of paragraph (a) of the proposed new subsection but, perhaps by inadvertence, he has omitted to deal with paragraph (b) which provides: that all ladders used in agriculture shall be soundly constructed and properly maintained. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would care to say a word or two about ladders, because it is well known that the majority of accidents which occur in the spring arc caused by the rotten rungs of ladders which have been lying idle during the winter and have been neglected. It should be obligatory that ladders should be properly maintained and should come under the inspection system which is envisaged in other parts of the Bill. I would invite the right hon. Gentleman to say a word or two on that subject.

Mr. Amory

I am sorry. I should, think, have referred specifically to that matter. I think that some regulations dealing with ladders would be appropriate. Ladders are quite a common cause of accidents; but, again, I think, it would perhaps be a mistake to single them out for inclusion in the mandatory powers of the Bill. I believe that exactly the same thing holds good here as with the first part of the Amendment. We shall want to consult the interests concerned to find the right kind of regulation. I really doubt whether it would be wise to single out ladders specifically, in view of the other difficulties to which I have referred, for mention under the mandatory heading. I can assure the hon. Member for Goole (Mr. G. Jeger) and the House that in the consultations I shall take the initiative of suggesting that regulations should be devised to deal with faulty ladders, as regards both construction and maintenance.

Mr. Gooch

I have listened to the Minister's reasons for not proceeding further to deal with the dangerous parts of machines, but I am not at all convinced by his argument. Unsuccessful endeavour was made during the Committee stage to induce the Minister to accept an Amendment the effect of which would have been to place on the employer an absolute statutory duty to provide where it was practically possible to do so all dangerous parts of machines with a guard. The Parliamentary Secretary, while at that time unable to accept the Amendment or to put forward another one in its place, did propose to table an Amendment to deal at least with fixed machinery.

There is no doubt that the necessity of protecting farm workers, by suitable regulations, from the many dangers created by machinery and machines would be a matter for priority after this legislation begins to operate, but if, after all, the Minister found himself unable to include some more absolute provision in the Bill to deal with the dangerous parts of fixed machinery, I say quite definitely that it would be a very great disappointment to my friends, many of whom are members of the National Union of Agricultural Workers. That it might lead to inspectors being inundated with requests by farmers to advise them as to what is reasonable and practicable is understandable, but the proposal places farmers at no disadvantage as against occupiers of factories who had to face the same initial problems when the Factories Act of 1937 came into operation.

The Minister said that it is impossible to guard some parts of machines. Everyone will accept that it is impracticable to guard every dangerous part of farm machines. For instance, the cutting tool of a machine has to be exposed, but it is the protruding shaft, the spindles, the cogs and other moving parts which are unnecessarily and negligently left exposed to the danger of the operator of the machine which cause the serious accidents and fatalities on farms. It is surely not unreasonable, and presents no real difficulty in drafting, for an absolute obligation to be placed on the farmer, such as is placed on the factory occupier, to see that those dangers are eliminated or minimised as far as possible.

Where means of protection of machinery can reasonably be taken there is no considerable reason why the worker on the farm or in the forest should be afforded fewer statutory safeguards than are provided for the great bulk of industrial workers. If the Minister cannot see his way to meeting us on the Amendment it will be some consolation or satisfaction to us if we can be assured that he will keep those matters in mind and that we can anticipate suitable regulations of that nature as a matter of priority.

Mr. Amory

I do not dissent from one word of what the hon. Member for Norfolk. North (Mr. Gooch) has said. It is our clear objective, as far as we can, to see that the workers in agriculture have protection at least as good as their opposite numbers would have in other industries. I, too, am disappointed that we have not been able to find the right words to make a mandatory provision in the Bill itself, but I once more assure the House that I realise the importance of seeing that effective regulations are made to deal with whatever moving parts of machines—

Mr. Gooch


Mr. Amory

As early as possible—that whatever moving parts of machines can be protected will be protected. I would again say, however, in reference to the Factories Acts, that my advice is that it did, in fact, take many years gradually to evolve the right ways of dealing with the difficulties, and that even under the Factories Acts those concerned, with their long experience, had to give themselves a "let-out", as it were, by this regulation-making power to which I have referred whereby they could modify the original obligation which had been included in the Acts.

I assure the hon. Gentleman once again that when we come to consultation about these regulations we shall give a very high priority indeed to regulations dealing with fixed and static machinery. I myself rather feel that that, in one sense, would be the easiest thing to tackle. Certainly one can think of some things that clearly ought to be done about the simple kind of fixed and static machinery one sees in use on the farm. I have seen parts of those machines unfenced that I am certain could be fenced, so I have little doubt whatever that regulations will in fact be made, and I can assure the hon. Gentleman and the House that, in the consultations, we will give a high priority to regulations under these headings.

I must be careful that I do not promise an equally high priority to everything. I have already made a promise about ladders. Ladders, I agree, should not be awfully difficult to deal with. There are a surprising number of cases of people having accidents by falling from ladders—including the Minister, who fell from one. I should be out of order, Mr. Speaker, if I went into that incident in any great detail but it was not unconnected with a ladder. For myself, I feel that in this sector it would be almost inexcusable if we did not find it possible to make appropriate regulations to deal with a good deal of the danger arising from fixed and static machinery.

Mr. Willey

In asking leave to withdraw the Amendment, may I repeat what I said in moving it; that we were for all practical purposes concerned at this stage with fixed machinery and ladders. I am obliged to my hon. Friend the Member for Goole (Mr. G. Jeger), but the view I took was that it would be invidious to specify only ladders. Secondly, my recollection of the technical advice that I received is that this would not be a simple matter to define within the Bill, and that for those reasons it would be better to make this the subject of regulation without defining it specifically and separately in the Bill itself.

4.30 p.m.

With regard to the fixed machinery, I think that the best we can do is to accept the assurance of the right hon. Gentleman, and to assure him that if he does not take speedy action we shall exercise the greatest pressure upon him. We should accept the assurance of the right hon. Gentleman that he will impose regulations, where at present regulations are unimposable; we should accept the circumstances as they are. Then, having made a beginning, it is up to us all to see that we extend the scope of the regulations as rapidly as we can.

In those circumstances, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. J. E. B. Hill

I beg to move, in page 2, line 35. after "agriculture", to insert: (h) requiring the employers of workers employed in agriculture to insure themselves against claims made by such workers or their dependants for damages arising out of a breach of any provision of this Act or of any regulation thereunder. The object of this Bill is to avoid accidents, to safeguard health and to promote welfare. That object will be defeated if people take unnecessary risks and then seek to protect themselves against the consequences by insurance. The test of the Bill's success will be in the decrease in the number of accidents rather than in any increase in claims for damages. But there will remain in agriculture certain inescapable, unpredictable dangers, and some accidents are bound to happen. They may well give rise to claims for damages if the employer is liable.

The present position, apart from the Industrial Injuries Scheme, is that the employer is separately liable at civil law, broadly speaking, if he has been negligent in helping to cause an accident. The regulations to be made under the Bill will introduce, I believe for the first time in agriculture, the doctrine of statutory liability which will place a heavy burden upon, let us say, the unlucky employer.

I am not competent to discuss the implications of statutory liability in detail, but suffice it to say that an employer, if he is held to have committed a breach of the regulations, may find that he has to meet a claim, if the injury is fatal or serious, of several thousands of pounds, amounting perhaps to the value of the freehold, the live and dead stock and the working capital of a small farm.

Therefore, it is obvious that all farmers need to insure. That has been mentioned by several hon. Members on Second Reading, and I think it is true to say that most farmers do insure. It is difficult to ascertain exactly what the proportion is, but my information suggests that it is probably a least 80 per cent. Farmers generally take out an employer's liability insurance when they take out other insurance. It may be that if the Minister, as I hope he will, promulgates safety regulations in poster form, this will help to jog the farmers' memories and will draw their attention to the need to insure.

One hopes, too, that the companies will pursue a drive to cover all risks. But some farmers are perhaps ignorant or forgetful, and may fail to insure. That seems to me to be unfair to the worker who may be injured on a farm where there is no insurance cover. Also, it may be unfair to the farmer or to his family, because if a heavy claim has to be met and there is no insurance cover, the family may lose their home and livelihood in an extreme case. The farmer does not always realise that the members of his own family who work for him for payment can also be covered against injury.

In addition, it is unfair on the farmer's fellow farmers, because the cost of premiums, which should not amount to more than I per cent. of wages—that is to say, 20s. in £100 of wages—will be taken into account in the Annual Price Review and, therefore, any non-insurer would be avoiding a responsibility that he ought to incur.

One should mention the small contractor who may employ farm workers and who may not have very much capital behind him and yet may be the man who supplies the machinery and so forth. It seems to me desirable that he in particular should be covered by insurance. I do not like compulsion; I realise that the question of compulsory insurance has been considered and rejected by Royal Commissions. On the other hand, it seems to work satisfactorily in the case of road traffic, and I do not see how we could do without compulsory insurance in that case. I sometimes feel that conditions on the farm are more akin to those on the road than to conditions in such factories as I have visited.

I hope, therefore, that the insurance companies will canvass all farmers, publicising the great risks that they run, and that the power which I seek to give the Minister in this Amendment will never be used. But that is not to say that such a power should not be held in reserve in case of need. If experience were to show that a compulsory scheme of insurance were desirable, then the power would be available, and such a scheme could be worked out by consulting the interests concerned and would be subject to affirmative Resolution by Parliament according to the provisions of this Bill.

Even if the power should never be used, it would at least serve the valuable purpose of continually emphasising the need for full and proper insurance against the risk of accident.

Mr. Archer Baldwin (Leominster)

I beg to second the Amendment. My hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. J. E. B. Hill) has fully explained the reason why this Amendment has been put on the Notice Paper. Like my hon. Friend, I do not like compulsion, but we have to accept compulsion in many walks of life, and in this case I think it is necessary. The great majority of farmers will insure against any liability which may arise under this Bill. We want to protect the employees against those few who do not insure and who may not be in a position to provide for any person who is injured.

Road traffic became so dangerous that it was necessary to protect the public against the careless driver who injured or killed people. Compulsory steps were taken to make sure that drivers insured against third party claims. In this case, we feel that it would be no hardship on the agricultural community if those few who otherwise would not insure were compelled to do so. If my right hon. Friend could bring into effect some means of protecting employees against the forgetful or careless employer, it would be all to the good of the agricultural community.

Mr. Dye

Although I would not disagree with the principle of compulsory insurance, I should have thought that all farmers do cover themselves against accidents to their workpeople; and, if we are to introduce the principle of compulsory insurance, I should hardly have thought that we should start by asking the employer to be covered where he himself has broken the regulations or the law, but that it should apply in all circumstances. I do not see why we should compel an employer to insure against such particular occurrences if we do not compel him to be covered against accidents which might occur to all his workers when performing their duties or going to or coming from those duties.

Therein lies the weakness of the Amendment. Here, in this particular circumstance, we are asking for compulsory insurance only where the employer himself breaks the regulations by not having proper protection. I feel that the Amendment would hardly bear examination.

Mr. Nugent

This Amendment does, of course, raise a very important principle. As the House may remember, it was discussed at some length during consideration of the Mines and Quarries Bill. The question was then raised as to the desirability of compulsory insurance, and the Minister concerned undertook to look into it. Finally, he had to inform the House that he was unable to include such a provision in that Bill, which has now, of course, become an Act.

The question was subsequently examined further, in great detail, in the course of consultations between Ministry of Labour and the Trades Union Congress, the final outcome being that the Government announced that they felt it was undesirable to introduce legislation to give effect to the principle of compulsory insurance.

In any event, if anything were to be done, it would, I think, have to be done by separate legislation. Apart from the fact that it would apply, of course, to many other industries, it would be quite impossible to deal with it by a simple Amendment like this, tacked on to a Bill of this kind.

There is an immediate practical problem here, within the limits of this Bill, with which my hon. Friends the Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. J. E. B. Hill) and the Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin) are attempting to deal. That is the problem of enforcement. It is no use making a regulation of this kind unless there is an adequate inspectorate or adequate machinery to ensure 100 per cent. enforcement. Immediately, one is brought up against the realities of the problem, that to make compulsory insurance effective in this kind of employment it would be necessary to have comprehensive legislation of its own.

The analogy of the Road Traffic Act is not a true analogy at all. There one has the convenience of the bottleneck of the application for a licence, when it is easy to check up to see whether each applicant has his third party insurance policy. In this case, some means would have to be found of checking up on each farmer.

Mr. J. T. Price

May I remind the Parliamenary Secretary of one other Statute which has some relevance here? While the Road Traffic Act may not be a perfect analogy, there is a similar provision in the Workmen's Compensation Acts. Before the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act of 1946, under the Workmen's Compensation Acts there was provision for compulsory insurance; it was not covered merely by the common law liability.

Mr. Nugent

I thank the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. J. T. Price) for giving the House the benefit of his encyclopaedic knowledge on this subject. I think that my comment on the analogy of the Road Traffic Act is a completely fair one. The great practical problem here, apart from the principle, is enforcement. In view of the very full consideration which the Government have given to this problem of compulsory insurance, I feel there is not at the present time much prospect of moving from the position already reached.

I entirely agree with the practical point made by my hon. Friends, and we certainly shall do everything we can to encourage farmers to take out such policies of insurance. We shall certainly lose no opportunity for publicity towards that end. I was very glad to see that the farming Press did give a great deal of publicity earlier to the intentions of this Bill, particularly in this connection; I hope they will do so again, both in the interests of individual farmers and in the interests of farm workers. I am sure that that is the best way of doing it.

We shall certainly lose no opportunity of bringing home to farmers the wisdom of insuring in this way, not only, as the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Dye) points out, on the narrow point, but on the general situation, in order to cover their liabilities and obligations towards their workers.

In the light of this explanation, I hope that my hon. Friends will be content to withdraw their Amendment, recognising that the general principle raised here, which is a very broad one, has recently had very full consideration, and that the best way of dealing with the problem is by publicity.

4.45 p.m.

Mr. G. Jeger

It should be noted that the suggestion proposed by this Amendment, moved and seconded from the other side of the House, is one which would arouse considerable consternation in the farming community. Many of us have been meeting farmers during the last few months. They are faced with new problems in agriculture which arise from the fact that they have been "set free". Now we find a proposal advanced from the other side of the House to put an obligation upon them, a legal obligation, which would be completely at variance with their "freedom".

During the Committee stage of the Bill, we had considerable discussion on various matters, and the hon. Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. J. E. B. Hill) enlightened us considerably during those discussions with his views on agriculture. Many of us thought, when he was discussing farming, what a good lawyer he would make. Now he is discussing the law, we have been impressed by his qualities as an insurance agent. My hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Dye) has put his finger on the point of this Amendment, that a farmer should be made, by law, to insure himself against the consequences of a breach of the law. That, I think, rules the whole matter entirely out of court.

It is interesting that this encouragement—whether legally imposed, or merely friendly encouragement such as the Minister suggests—should come now, when the question of agricultural accidents is looming very large in our thoughts, and when regulations are being imposed which might prevent such accidents or impose obligations upon farmers to fence machinery and make agriculture more safe. There have been many thousands of accidents every year since farming began, yet there has never been this consternation among farmers before, and no attempt to impose upon them an obligation to insure themselves against the results of such accidents.

However much the hon. Gentleman the Member for Norfolk, South may feel that it is only breaches of the law against which the farmer need insure himself, it seems to me that what is important is the whole question of accidents which may occur as a result of neglect or owing to the fact that farmers—many of them in the country, unfortunately—have hitherto found it unnecessary or unreasonable to impose upon themselves any regulations for the health and safety of farm workers.

I hope that the Minister will not accept the Amendment and impose this regulation upon the farmers, but I hope, too, that every sensible farmer, as he has been doing for a long time, will see that everything possible is done not merely to safeguard his workers but to insure himself against any inadvertent accident which may occur, so that he may do justice to the claims of the workers.

Major Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)

I should like to make one observation, in the light of what the Joint Parliamentary Secretary has said, in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. J. E. B. Hill). I quite see the force of the argument that it is extremely difficult to contemplate making this type of insurance compulsory where there is no bottleneck, as he described it, as a result of licences having to be applied for. There is, however, one particular field here which does, I think, permit of this, because there is a bottleneck for licences in the case of gang masters.

I know that the hon. Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Gooch) will agree with me when I say that his union has been extremely concerned about the often all too lax labour conditions in gang masters' organisations. There are some parts of the country where gang labour is becoming more and more the main form of labour, and in my own constituency, in the fruit growing areas, we rely tremendously upon it. I do not say that the risks of injury from horticultural gang work are as great as they are in corn production.

Mr. Gooch

The men who work in those gangs do not use machines.

Major Legge-Bourke

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his support, because I was going to point out that I am quite certain that, as the years go by, we shall see gang labour coming more and more into all the departments of agriculture. I believe that in Canada gangs are organised for milking purposes and go from farm to farm doing automatic milking. That may well happen here.

Every gang master has to have a licence. That is the point that I wish to make. Therefore, the argument of the Joint Parliamentary Secretary against the Amendment does not apply with so much force in the case of gang masters. I would say that in fact the scope is there, if he liked to use it in any particular instance. I think that generally speaking the introduction, as it were, of the middle man in the labour market allows of perhaps rather more carelessness so far as possible injury is concerned than is the case where the employer has his men year in and year out.

For that reason, I hope—I am not saying necessarily at this moment—that my hon. Friend will give further consideration to this matter, because I think that the conditions of work in gangs are not as good as the conditions in the majority of cases where a man is working for his employer year in and year out. I think that there is scope here whereby the gang master, applying for a licence, might very well at the same time have to show that he has taken proper care to insure himself against any liability arising out of the Bill.

Mr. J. E. B. Hill

In view of the explanation given by my hon. Friend, I should like to say that I am grateful to him for his sympathetic treatment of the principles behind the Amendment. Nonetheless, he has convinced me that, in the words of the Factories Act, it is not "reasonably practicable" to include it in the Bill, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Nugent

I beg to move, in page 2, line 43, to leave out "an inspector" and to insert "the appropriate Minister".

This Amendment gives effect to the undertaking we gave during the Committee stage to make an alteration so that the Minister issues certificates of exemption instead of the inspector. As we explained at the time, such applications for certificates of exemption would, of course, have come to the Ministry, and this will put in statutory form what would, in fact, have happened in practice.

Mr. Willey

I rise only to thank the Joint Parliamentary Secretary for meeting a point that we raised in Committee, and to say that we feel much happier about the Bill now that the responsibility is placed upon the Minister and not upon the inspector.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Nugent

I beg to move, in page 2, line 43, after "exempting", to insert "for such periods as may be specified therein and".

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I think that this Amendment and the next go together.

Mr. Nugent

Yes, Sir. This and the next Amendment have the effect of enabling my right hon. Friend to fix a time limit when he allows a certificate of exemption. This was a further point raised on the Committee stage by hon. Members Opposite, and this Amendment gives effect to the undertaking which we then gave.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In page 2, line 44, leave out "specified in the certificates" and insert "so specified".—[Mr. Nugent.]

Mr. Nugent

I beg to move, in page 3, line 3, to leave out subsection (7) and to insert:

(7) The Threshing Machines Act, 1878, shall be repealed on such day as may be appointed for that purpose by order made by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food by statutory instrument, and the Chaff-Cutting Machines (Accidents) Act, 1897. shall be repealed—

  1. (a) as respects England and Wales, on such day as may be appointed for that purpose by order made as aforesaid;
  2. (b) as respects Scotland, on such day as may be appointed for that purpose by order made by the Secretary of State by statutory instrument.
This again gives effect to an undertaking given during the Committee stage in response to an Amendment moved by hon. and right hon. Members opposite. It will have the effect of repealing these Threshing Machine Acts by order and so avoid a possible hiatus between the repeal of the old legislation and the introduction of the new.

Amendment agreed to.