§ 10.0 p.m.
§ Mr. A. V. Hilton (Norfolk, South-West)
I beg to move,That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Agriculture (Lifting of Heavy Weights) Regulations, 1959 (S.I. 1959, No. 2120), dated 14th December 1959, a copy of which was laid before this House on 17th December, be annulled.Strange as it may seem in 1960, farm workers are expected to carry any weight their employers may ask them to lift. There is no maximum weight at present in agriculture whereas in industry things are altogether different. For a number of years, farm workers have been pressing through my union, the National Union of Agricultural Workers, for legislation on this matter so that a maximum weight might be introduced and they might not be expected to lift or carry anything above that weight, thus bringing them into line with workers in other industries.
The question of the weights which farm workers are expected to lift have been the subject of many resolutions passed for years now at conferences of agricultural workers. In recent years, the National Union of Agricultural Workers has been instructed by its members to get in touch with the N.F.U. and the Ministry concerned and suggest that the maximum weight should be progressively reduced to 1 cwt. This, surely, is not a revolutionary suggestion. We do not ask that this should be done suddenly. We are quite willing to give those concerned an opportunity to readjust matters. We know that the large sacks which merchants use would have to disappear eventually under our proposals and smaller sacks replace them. We consider this reasonable.
After discussion with representatives of over 30 of the interests concerned, the Ministry which had conducted inquiries informed my union in September, 1957, that as an interim measure the maximum weight would be reduced to 168 lbs. from 1st January, 1958, and that from 1st January, 1961, the maximum weight could be reduced to 1 cwt. I have a copy of the letter from the Ministry of Agriculture, dated 17th September, 1957, which sets out the figures which I have just quoted.
600 The union was, naturally, glad to get this information from the Ministry, because it was something for which our members had been asking for a long time and we considered that a satisfactory arrangement had been reached. The union was prepared to agree to a compromise of 140 lbs. which was halfway between 168 lbs. and 1 cwt. and we expected that legislation would be introduced on the lines laid down in that letter. Imagine the surprise of my union when, on 17th February, 1959, a further letter was received from the Ministry informing us that, following further discussions, the minimum rate would be 168 lbs. in the sack, with an allowance of 12 lbs. for the sack itself, making the maximum weight 180 lbs.
Needless to say, this was a great shock to the members of my union. It is not good enough, in 1960, for the Ministry to tell farm workers that they must lift any weight their bosses tell them to lift until 1965, when the new proposals will become operative, when they will not be forced to carry more than 180 lbs., and at about the same time another Ministry, the Ministry of Labour, has issued a pamphlet entitled, "Lifting and Carrying", under the No. I new series of the Safety, Health and Welfare Regulations, recommending that the maximum load for lifting in industry should be 130 lbs.
I am sure that every reasonable thinking person will agree that it is wrong nowadays to have one law for workers in industry and a different one for workers in agriculture. The Minister of Agriculture is not here tonight, but he is a farmer. I wonder how he would set about lifting from the ground a sack of corn, wheat or barley weighing anything between 16, 18 and 20 stones. Yet that is what farmers are being asked to do this year, although, in 1965, the maximum weight is to be reduced to 180 lbs.
In these days of so many mechanical aids it is criminal that farm workers should be treated in this way. I feel strongly on the matter. It is no surprise that the number of accidents on the farms, and the number of workers suffering from hernia, has increased so much in recent years. We see men working in the harvest field going behind some 601 of the not so modern combines and picking up sacks of corn weighing as much as 20 stones. This is not good enough and should not be allowed to continue. It is bad enough that farm workers should be at the bottom of the wages level of the country and have to work long hours for the miserable wage that they get. To have to lift heavy weights is just going too far at the present time.
My union has all the time wanted to be reasonable and realistic about it. We do not say that the 1 cwt. sack should be introduced now, but we do say that it should be introduced into agriculture as soon as possible. We are prepared to agree to the merchants, farmers and those concerned having time to readjust themselves to the various sizes of sacks, but it should not take as long as 1965 before the reduction to sacks of 1 cwt., for which we are asking, is realised. I claim that it is not too much to ask the Minister to be equally reasonable and realistic as the workers themselves are. Surely, in these days, when so much corn and other produce from the farm is carried by bulk methods, it is not so difficult to make the change, which we confidently expected was to come about according to the letter of 17th September, 1959, from the Ministry, which I have already quoted.
I am quite sure that workers in no other industry in this country would be expected to lift such heavy weights as are farm workers. If they were expected to do so, I know the answer that would be given. They would just refuse to lift them. In fact, as I have already said, the Ministry of Labour has laid down that the maximum weight to be lifted in any industry should be 130 lbs. These days no farm workers should have to lift these heavy weights, and we therefore submit this Prayer with confidence.
§ 10.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Denys Bullard (Kings Lynn)
I am very interested in this matter, because I believe that in East Anglia we are rather had culprits, in that we have a type of sack in that part of the country, the coomb sack, which takes 18 stones, and which is more commonly used there than in many other parts of the country. I am also interested be- 602 cause I think that I might fairly claim that I have carried more of those 18-stone sacks than anybody in the House of Commons. I believe that my record in that direction would take a bit of challenging, but that does not mean that I do not agree with a good deal of what the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Hilton) has said.
I should be glad to see the end of this heavy weight sack. Like the hon. Gentleman, I think that it is now time that its death knell was sounded. I was a little surprised to see this Prayer on the Order Paper, because I thought that the regulations were a very progressive measure following on the lines of good Conservative principles, and a very good Conservative Act of Parliament. I am rather sorry, in a way, that its general principle has been challenged this evening.
I was interested to hear the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West say that a farm worker had to carry any weight which his employer asked him to do. I have known a good many farm workers, and I know the sort of reply that they would give if asked to carry a weight which they considered excessive. They would tell the "guvnor", "Get under that and carry it yourself", and I would very much respect them for that reply.
In all these matters, one has to move with the times. The big sack was used with old threshing methods, when it was a handy container of corn. There was machinery for lifting it and most farm workers preferred to take corn away from a threshing drum in 18-stone sacks rather than in the smaller 1 cwt. sacks, because they did not have so many to carry and because in many ways the smaller sack makes for more difficult operation.
However, as time has gone on and combine harvesters have come to be used more and more, the large sack has been found to be unsuitable, and that has been the first nail in its coffin. The British Transport Commission and other sack hire organisations will quickly run down their stocks of the bigger sacks long before 1965 when the Regulations are to become fully effective, and in that time we shall see a transition to the lighter weight.
A point not raised by the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West arises out 603 of Regulation 3, which refers to the weight whichmay be lifted or carried by a worker employed in agriculture, unaided. …There is probably a snag in the Regulations in that respect. The hon. Member spoke of the heavy sack dropped on the ground behind the combine harvester and which had to be lifted on to a trailer or something of that kind. Generally speaking, those sacks are lifted by two or three men, but at some stage in the operation the men lifting the sack are under a considerable strain and, even with two or three men lifting, there is a greater danger of injury than in the case of one man lifting a single heavy sack in proper conditions.
So far as I can see, we are not banning the lifting of the 18-stone sack by two or three people, even though there is greater risk than in other circumstances. I do not know whether the Government have considered that, but it seems to be a loophole in the Regulations, which may not be considerable, but which appears to me to be important.
I do not want to say more than that. This is a progressive and good set of Regulations. I have not had the benefit of the inside information about various negotiations which the hon. Member has had, but I sincerely hope that the principle of the Regulations will not be challenged in any way.
§ 10.19 p.m.
§ Mr. R. E. Prentice (East Ham, North)
The hon. Member for King's Lynn (Mr. Bullard) thought that the Regulations would have been welcome and was surprised that a Prayer had been put down against them. I can only think that he did not listen to the case which my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Hilton) made, because my hon. Friend welcomed the fact that Regulations on this subject were at least being introduced, but criticised the weight laid down in the Regulations and their date of operation. It is on those two matters that I wish to support my hon. Friend.
My hon. Friend speaks on these matters as a representative of a large rural constituency and as a man with very long practical experience as an 604 organiser of farm workers. I cannot address the House as the representative of a rural constituency. There are not many farms in East Ham, but what is to the point is that I had some years' experience working on the problems of industrial accidents when I was on the staff of the Transport and General Workers' Union. My union also organises a certain number of farm workers.
Anyone who has had that kind of experience longs for the day when workers in agriculture and other industries not covered by the Factories Acts will have the same kind of protection as has been afforded by the Factories Acts for many years to millions of workers.
The first point that the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland has to answer for is why the maximum weight rate laid down in these Regulations is so high compared with the rate recommended by the Ministry of Labour to industry as a result of the experience of the Factory Inspectorate over many years.
This is an important question which will affect the number of accidents in agriculture in the years ahead. According to the last available Annual Report, which was for 1958, of the Chief Inspector of Factories, in the industries covered by that Report more accidents were caused by the lifting and handling of goods than by any other cause. During 1958, there were 38,469 accidents due to the handling and lifting of goods. That figure represented 26.9 per cent. of the total number of accidents notified. I do not know whether there are comparable figures for agriculture. If there are I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will give us some information about them, but surely the experience of industry is an indication, and the figures that I have quoted are an indication, of the importance of the subject that we are debating tonight.
My hon. Friend mentioned the pamphlet issued by the Ministry of Labour entitled, "Lifting and Carrying." It was one of a series of pamphlets issued to try to cut down the rate of accidents. My hon. Friend reminded the House that the maximum weight recommended to be carried by an adult man was 130 lbs. as against the 180 lbs. laid down in the Regulations.
605 The pamphlet advised workers how to avoid accidents when lifting weights. It gave a lot of good advice on the proper way to lift sacks and other loads and said:An excessive load may seriously strain even the trained and experienced person. If it approaches or exceeds 50 per cent. of the individual's bodyweight, the risk of injury from possible loss of balance is a real one.Tonight, we are discussing weights that are very much in excess of 50 per cent. of most people's bodyweight. A heavy responsibility rests on the Minister of Agriculture for having put forward a weight as high as the one that we are discussing.
I have been looking further into this to discover what regulations have been made to deal with this point in other industries. It is true that in most industries no specific rate is laid down for men, although in many cases there are maximum weights laid down for women and juveniles. An example can be found in the woollen and worsted industries. There were the Woollen and Worsted (Lifting of Heavy Weights) Regulations as long ago as 1926, which Lid down a maximum weight of 150 lbs. for a man if the sack was compact a id rigid, and 120 lbs. if it was not.
What I think is much more to the point is the practice in the flour milling industry, because flour milling obviously has a connection with agriculture, and flour mills have to handle things which come from farms. In flour milling there is no statutory limit, but for many years there has been a limit agreed by the National Joint Industrial Council for Flour Milling. That limit is 140 lbs. and has existed for a long time. The Under-Secretary ought to tell the House what he thinks should happen when a sack weighing more than 140 lbs. arrives at a flour mill. Is the manager to agree that it should be handled by his men? Are the men to agree to handle it, or are they to refuse to handle it?
I have made inquiries as to what happens now. I am told that in some cases the men in the flour mills refuse to handle sacks weighing more than 140 lbs. and that farmers or merchants sending lorries with heavier sacks have to send their own men along to do the unloading. I understand that in other flour mills this does not happen and the agreement is broken both by the 606 employers and the men who unload heavier sacks.
This, surely, is a state of affairs which should not be supported for any longer than we can help. There ought to be some consideration of the relationship between agriculture and flour milling, and a standard that has been accepted for many years in flour milling ought to apply to agriculture.
The Under-Secretary owes it to the House to explain why the Ministry has changed its attitude to this matter so drastically. As my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West reminded us, draft Regulations were made in September, 1957. In those Regulations it was suggested that a maximum weight of 168 lbs. should take effect from 1st January 1958, and from 1st January, 1961, a maximum weight of 1 cwt. Then there was consultation with the interests involved. No doubt, very strong objections were received from the people who manufacture sacks and other vested interests of that kind.
As my hon. Friend said, the unions concerned were prepared to make a concession. They suggested a maximum weight of 1¼ cwt., or 140 lbs. They had discussions during 1958 with officials in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and were certainly left with the impression then that 140 lbs. would be the figure in the Regulations. Last year the Ministry came forward with this very heavy weight of 180 lbs., and, so far as I know, no arguments have been provided to the unions concerned or to other people justifying this weight. The Under-Secretary has a duty to justify it tonight.
Apart from the point about the weight of the sacks, we have a very serious criticism about the timing of these Regulations and the date on which they are to take effect. The House should bear in mind that the Act came into force in 1956. Draft Regulations dealing with this problem came forward in September, 1957. Now, over two years later, the Regulations are being made, but they are not to take effect until 1st July, 1965—that is in five and a half years' time, and it will be nine years after the Act itself came into force.
Surely, if the Government are really serious in saying that they want to give the farm worker the kind of protection to which he is entitled and the kind of 607 treatment that other workers have had for many years, they ought to be able to move more quickly than that. The only reason of which we are aware at the moment for this delay is that the manufacturers of sacks and the other interests concerned say that it would be difficult to make a change-over by an earlier date. No doubt, we shall be told a lot about the number of sacks in store, and the life of a sack and that sort of thing. The unions all along have agreed that there is a valid point here and that some time is needed for the change-over, but surely not as much time as this.
If the Minister, in 1956 and 1957, had made it clear that there were to be these Regulations and that they were to come into effect with all speed, the industry could have started changing over then. They could have started changing over to making smaller sacks in 1956 and 1957. The older ones could have been withdrawn. From time to time sacks need repairing. When they are repaired, it is an easy matter to shorten them, so the process of change-over could have been accomplished a year or so ago.
In this instance there appears to have been a surrender by stages to the vested interests in the sack making industry. It seems to represent on the part of the Minister a lack of determination to make the Regulations within the spirit of the Act. Anyone who has the interests of agricultural workers at heart will welcome the fact that Regulations on this point are being made at last, but we wish that they could have been made in better form. We are entitled to ask why the weight quoted in the Regulations is not more reasonable and why the Regulations cannot take effect sooner than 1965.
§ 10.31 p.m.
§ Mr. E. G. Gooch (Norfolk, North)
I want to join in the plea made by my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Hilton). By reason of the fact that three Norfolk Members have taken part in this debate, it might be imagined that this is a Norfolk battle, I assure the House that it is not a county matter, but a national matter. The point made by my hon. Friend applies to farm workers throughout England and Wales.
608 The hon. Member for King's Lynn (Mr. Bullard) said that he was rather surprised that we had put this Prayer on the Order Paper and he regarded the Act of Parliament under which the Regulations are being made as a progressive Measure. I assure him that we on this side of the House who are interested in farm workers' problems also regarded it as a progressive Measure. It was one of the pleasures of being a Member of Parliament representing a rural constituency when the former Minister of Agriculture mentioned to me in the Lobby that it was proposed to introduce a Measure of this kind.
I am glad that the Bill eventually became an Act and that, as the House is aware, a number of Regulations have been made under it. I do not say that those of us associated with workers on the land are completely pleased with all that has been done in the form of Regulations, but we are grateful for small matters—small in themselves, but applying to a very large area—and for what has been done up to now. I make the point that this is merely an exception to the rule.
Another point I make about the Regulations is that, while Regulations are all right, seeing that they are observed is another matter. I am afraid that in the case of the Regulations made up to now there has been lack of observance, particularly in respect of one of them. That can be disposed of properly only by increasing the number of inspectors given the duty of seeing that regulations are worked. The great aim of this Act and of the Regulations made under it is accident prevention.
I wish to reinforce the point that has been made that lifting heavy weights often leads to serious injury. It has been pointed out that often there is delay because of the time taken between talking with organisations and Departments concerned about introducing a Regulation and the time when it becomes operative. That is very tantalising to those affected by the Regulation. It is rather remarkable that no fewer than 45 organisations have had to be consulted before the Minister could make up his mind. That in itself is an achievement.
In addition, taking it from the point of view of the man immediately concerned, the man who works on the farm, 609 out of all the 45 organisations which are consulted before Regulations are put before the House, only three represent associations of workers. That, of course, we cannot help for the time being, but if more workers' representatives had been consulted we should have had the various Regulations applied faster than they have been hitherto.
I have had the pleasure now of being associated, as president for over thirty years, with the National Union of Agricultural Workers. I really know what the farm worker has in his mind and what he is asking for today. Farm workers have been asking for years for a provision of this kind to be implemented not in five years, but now. It is a serious, human problem. I appeal to the Joint Under-Secretary to look at the matter again and try to evolve a method of hastening the application of the Regulations.
§ 10.36 p.m.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Gilmour Leburn)
I believe that the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) understands and appreciates why my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is unable to be here tonight to reply to this debate. I, too, am very sorry about that, but I hope that hon. Members will be prepared to put up with a Scottish voice for a few minutes.
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for King's Lynn (Mr. Bullard) for the welcome he has given to these Regulations, but, at the same time, I am equally grateful to hon. Members opposite for having drawn attention to what is a very important Measure. This is one of the cases where it is right and proper that the matter should be ventilated.
I want to clear up at once the point raised by the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Hilton) and by the hon. Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Prentice) about what they referred to as draft Regulations. It is right to say, I think, that the letter to which they referred contained exploratory proposals and did not contain any definite promise.
The heavy, 2¼ cwt. grain sack has presented a problem for many years. Although some farm workers, of course, 610 were proud of their ability to handle these heavy weights—I think we can all understand that—the weight was too much for safety. Conditions in which some of the sacks had to be moved—uneven floors, slippery floors, and so forth—only served to create extra hazards. No voluntary action was taken, so the Agriculture (Safety, Health and Welfare Provisions) Act, 1956, included a Section empowering the Agricultural Ministers to make regulations limiting the weights carried by workers.
My right hon. Friend who was then Minister of Agriculture drew attention to the 2¼ cwt. sack during the passage of that Act and said that he hoped that it would be possible to make regulations about it, since he believed the weight to be excessive. The result is the Instrument now before the House.
Young persons, that is, persons under 18 years of age, are protected by Section 2 (1) of the Act, and they must not be allowed to lifta load so heavy as to be likely to cause injury.We are, therefore, dealing in these Regulations with grown up and, I would hope, experienced workers.
When we originally initiated consultations with interested organisations on this subject, over two years ago, it became clear that we should not be able to please everyone.
On the one hand, there were the people who thought that the weight should at the most be 112 lbs. and that this should become the legal maximum straight away. I think that is the point made by the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West. At the same time, there were other people who urged that any regulations on this subject would do more harm than good. Somewhere between these two extremes we had to find the right balance—something that would tackle the problem of the 2¼ cwt. sack, but which would not disrupt the trade in cereals.
After many months of discussion and consideration we eventually decided that a net weight of 168 lbs. would be the answer. This will outlaw the 4-bushel sack full of wheat, but the smaller size of sack will still enable cereals to be put up in commercially convenient weights.
For enforcement purposes, a gross weight has obvious advantages, so 12 lbs. 611 were added to allow for such things as the weight of the sack and any increase in weight due to moisture absorption of the contents of the sack after it had been filled.
If I may, I would like to turn for a moment to the question of timing.
§ Mr. Prentice
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves the question of the weight of the sack, will he tell the House why it was felt that this figure represented the right balance—was it in the light of the views of the unions concerned, in the light of the weight suggested by the Ministry of Labour in relation to industry or in the light of the other things he has mentioned? Surely the right balance would appear to be around 140 lbs. and not 168 lbs.
§ Mr. Leburn
Although I have to put a good deal of emphasis on the point of commercial convenience, I hope to show in a moment that the basis of 168 lbs. net or 180 lbs. gross is, in fact, what I would call a commercially convenient weight.
§ Mr. Prentice
But are we really to understand that commercial convenience is taking precedence over the health and safety of people who work in agriculture? Surely it is important to get that right and then make the commercial interests come into line with the proper weight.
§ Mr. Leburn
As I have said, we must try to hit a right balance. One could argue that one should come down to ½ cwt. or ¼ cwt. bags. We have tried to hit a happy medium and a right and proper balance.
On the question of timing, it was clearly of the utmost importance to allow reasonable time for adjustments to stocks of sacks to be made gradually as the old ones wore out. Anything precipitate would involve wastage of existing stocks and might disrupt the trade. I agree with what some hon. Members have said, that 1965 sounds a long way off, but let us not forget—and the hon. Gentleman anticipated this—the number of sacks with which we are dealing. It is estimated that there are about 20 million of these large sacks circulating in the trade and that individual sacks have a life of something like ten years, some less some more.
612 One cannot impose an unreasonable commercial handicap and time must be given for replacement. Moreover, it will not be 1965 before any changes are felt. We already know that one large firm of sack contractors plans to start introducing smaller sacks in time for this year's harvest. I must emphasise here that this is exactly what we want to see. The quicker we can get this done the better, and, indeed, it is in the best commercial interest to accomplish as much as possible of the necessary changeover before the maximum weight becomes law.
I believe that even the most severe critics of this Instrument must surely admit that at least it strikes a lethal blow at the lifting of 2¼ cwt. sacks by workers, and reduces this weight by a not inconsiderable amount—in fact, reduces it by ¾ cwt. Perhaps the easiest way to understand it is that whereas before we put 4½ cwt. in two sacks, three sacks will now be required to carry exactly the same quantity. So that for every two sacks we had before, we shall now have three.
§ Mr. Hilton
The hon. Gentleman will agree that he is still making a distinction between industrial workers, for whom the maximum weight is laid down to be 130 lb., as against farm workers, for whom the Regulations now specify 180 lb., which is 50 lb., or nearly 4 stone, more than for the industrial workers. Why the distinction?
§ Mr. Leburn
I would not like to make too much of this point, but I draw the hon. Member's attention to the leaflet to which he has referred me. I agree that it gives a maximum weight of 130 lb. for men, but the hon. Member will notice that under the type of work one finds the word "continuous". One might be able to do an arithmetical calculation if one took into account the word "intermittent". The arithmetical calculation might bring out a figure somewhere above 130 lb., but this is a rather dangerous arithmetical calculation in which to get involved tonight.
The Regulation has been agreed as a workable measure by commercial organisations directly concerned. In view of all the difficulties that we have encountered, this is no mean achivement. It may not come up to everyone's expectations—it obviously does not—and it certainly is not up to the expectations 613 of the agricultural workers' union. As I have said, however, it is a considerable advance and should afford a substantial protection to workers against the major risks of strain or injury from carrying excessive weights.
Correct methods of lifting are no less important than the weights concerned. I believe that this is a matter for education and not for regulation. Therefore, we intend to issue as soon as possible an advisory leaflet giving advice on the right techniques of lifting.
There are two specific points which I should like to answer. The first was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for King's Lynn (Mr. Bullard) in regard to the word "unaided". It is a difficulty, I agree, and it was considered at the proposals stage, but it gave rise to so many complications that in the end it was decided to go for the straightforward case. I hope that common sense will be able to overcome the difficulty referred to by my hon. Friend.
The hon. Member for East Ham, North raised a point regarding the flour mills. I see that that is a difficulty. On the other hand, I doubt whether by 1965 there will be much manual handling of sacks on their arrival at flour mills at least, I would hope not. I hope that with these explanations, I can commend the Regulations to the House in the firm belief that they are reasonable and beneficial.
§ 10.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North)
The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland has spoken with endearing lucidity, but in fairness to his good name I noted that he implied that at east he lacked responsibility. We are sorry that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary is not with us. I had assumed that he was too ashamed to justify the action of the Government in taking the Regulations, but we are all sorry to hear that he is indisposed and hope that he will soon he back with us.
I think I can say without contradiction that every member of the Standing Committee which discussed the Bill and discussed this provision will be sorely disappointed with the Regulations. If the Joint Under-Secretary turns to the OFFICIAL REPORT of our Committee proceedings, he will see that Members on 614 both sides of the Committee expected action more quickly and expected better action than has been taken.
I remember that my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. P. Wells) spoke about his own union resolving at one of its conferences in 1935 that the maximum weight should be 112 lbs. It waited 21 years for legislation. These Regulations will not be effective for thirty years after that conference.
I think there was a difference of opinion there. That is why we did not, on our side of the Standing Committee, succeed in getting this incorporated in legislation, but I think the impression gained from our discussions was that it might be not 1 cwt. but 1½ cwt. We have not got that, and that is the explanation of the draft Regulations of 1957. I think they indicate that the Government intended to accept the maximum which no one in the Standing Committee—apart possibly from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who seemed to be a little on his own—had in mind.
It is most unfortunate that we have not had the Regulations before. Certainly the present Regulations could have been obtained in 1957. I appreciate the importance of sack manufacture, but we have lost three years by the Government's messing about, dilly-dallying and dithering. There would have been no difficulty in having had these Regulations in 1957. No one expected any possibility of a maximum any higher than this. We have got the worst possible result after the maximum delay.
This is very disappointing. I am not trying to make a party point about this. That is why I said it would be equally disappointing to Members of both sides of the Standing Committee. It is unfortunate, because I am sure we congratulate the Minister on the fact that it was his Department which took the initiative in this field, but it is very disappointing that we got this inordinate delay and then got the worst possible result. It is not only a question of the Ministry of Labour recommending 130 lbs. The Gowers Committee, as far as I remember, recommended 1½ cwt. It is going beyond the limits of at any rate enlightened opinion—after all this delay.
615 I do appeal to the Joint Under-Secretary of State, therefore, to endeavour to look at this again. He has not got a great deal of time. This will not come into effect till 1965. I quite appreciate his difficulty, because the sacks have to go into manufacture a good deal of time before the Regulations become operative, but I think there is still time to try again.
What is the sack manufacturers' impression about this? The sack manufacturers, I should imagine, if they have to change the size of the sacks, would prefer the smaller size to the 1½ cwt. There would be larger orders for sacks. Where is the opposition coming from? From the National Farmers' Union? I should like to know. This is a matter in which we are concerned with safety and health. If we have got the general advice of the Ministry of Labour, if we have got the Gowers recommendation, if there is no difficulty raised by the sack manufacturers, because they are going to have to change their production anyway, I think we should know who is opposing this, because I would emphasise that this is of particular importance for workers in agriculture.
It is not so much a continuity of lifting sacks but the circumstances in which sacks are lifted. There is a great deal of carrying sacks up ladders. This is a case in which the argument in favour of the agricultural worker is stronger than that against him, because the conditions in which he has to lift sacks are inferior to those of many workers in industry. We know that most of the distributive trades use hundredweight sacks. The Under-Secretary spoke of these Regulations as striking a lethal blow at the problem. I do not think that they do that. They are welcome in that they impose a maximum.
We cannot carry our opposition any further tonight, but I ask the Under-Secretary, who has come to this matter afresh, to say that he has paid attention to the debate and that he will go back 616 and appeal to those opposing the suggestion that the weight should be reduced to take an enlightened view, because once the decision is final the sack manufacturers must go into production. There is still time for a change to be made and, with good will on all sides, we can get a maximum weight which will be more in accord with the enlightened age in which we live.
We welcome the Regulations, recognising that a maximum weight should be enforced. We appreciate the difficulty about the manufacture of sacks, but, because when made the decision will have to remain for a very long time, I hope that these Regulations will not be regarded as final.
§ Mr. Leburn
By leave of the House; I am grateful to the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) for his contribution, and I shall take careful note of all he has said. I do not think that I can go further than that tonight.
He asked whom we had consulted. It would not be right and proper to go into detail, but I will say that 66 organisations were consulted. Of the main organisations, only one section wanted a weight lower than 168 lbs., that section of course including the three workers' unions, all of them recommending a weight less than 168 lbs.
Having said that and having assured the hon. Member for Sunderland, North that I have taken careful note of all he has said, I need not add anything further.
§ Mr. Willey
I thank the hon. Gentleman for what he has said. I have no wish to embarrass anyone. I should like there to be further discussion in a good spirit and I hope that those discussions will lead to a better result than we now have. With that, I ask my hon. Friends to withdraw their Motion.
§ Mr. Hilton
In view of the promise of the Joint Under-Secretary to take note of what has been said, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.