HC Deb 03 March 1965 vol 707 cc1472-82

11.2 p.m.

Mr. James Scott-Hopkins (Cornwall, North)

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Agriculture (Poisonous Substances) (Amendment) Regulations 1965 (S.I., 1965, No. 76), dated 19th January 1965, a copy of which was laid before this House on 28th January, be annulled. I will, if I may, go quickly through some of the main points of substance on these Regulations which, as the House knows, amend the Regulations made under the 1952 Act and the 1963 and 1964 Regulations. These refer particularly as far as granulated applications are concerned.

The point which has always worried me is that here in the House we are making Regulations and laying down quite specifically that safety precautions must be taken by people dealing with dangerous substances on farms and in greenhouses throughout the country, but yet I have never been satisfied that the enforcement of these Regulations has been adequate.

Only when someone gets hurt or is poisoned by mishandling any of these substances does the matter come to light, and then only if adequate precautions have not been enforced and proper protective clothing has not been worn is action taken. But this is only after the accident has happened and after someone has been hurt. I have never been satisfied that enough supervisory work is carried out or that sufficient supervision takes place on the farm or that the hon. Gentleman's inspectors are doing enough by way of educating the agricultural industry in general and the farmers in particular about the dangers of some of these substances.

In Regulation 3(2,a) we see that the word "dinoseb" is used, and in sub-paragraph (b) we find the word "dich-lorvos." I have looked through every kind of scientific dictionary and I have asked the Library to undertake extensive explorations for me, and my hon. Friends have done the same, but no definition of these words can be found. I am well aware that these words have been used in previous Regulations, but I think that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary should explain exactly what they are. "Dinoseb" is obviously the same as DNOC, and I think that is defined, but when we use words like these in Regulations we should have interpretations of them inserted in the Regulations.

Regulation 3(2,c) talks of soil-application. In the main Regulations of 1963, soil-application is described as an application in liquid form which goes down to the roots in the soil. The hon. Gentleman will know which Regulation it is—I think that it is 4 or 5—but it says that anyone driving a tractor and using this soil-application apparatus is excluded from wearing protective clothing even though the Schedule to those Regulations says that the tractor driver has to be wearing protective clothing if the soil-application machine is tractor-mounted, or if the driver is alone in operating the tractor and the soil appliance.

Nevertheless, if he is driving the tractor and the soil appliance is pulled behind it he does not wear protective clothing and is specifically excluded from doing so. I would have thought that that Regulation was now outmoded, and that the driver should be entitled—or forced, if the hon. Gentleman likes—to wear these clothes.

I come to paragraph (3), where occurs the word "granule", used in the expression "granule placement". Once again, there is no definition of this, and yet this is, after all, an amending Regulation. There ought to be a definition of this. I looked up various scientific dictionaries, and there are several interpretations. I shall not weary the House by reading them, but I think it only right and proper that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary should look at this and consider whether any interpretation might be entered, as it should, into the Regulations as to precisely what is meant by "granule".

Paragraph (4) brings us to mackintoshes, overalls, and so on. It seems to me that the only difference here, where we are amending the Schedule to the previous Regulations, is that a mackintosh must have all the external pockets covered. This is a change of definition, and I am fascinated to know from the Joint Parliamentary Secretary why this should be so, particularly when we are dealing with "granulated" products—substances in "granular form".

I think that there is a mistake in the next paragraph, describing overalls. I followed the original, 1963, Regulations, and the wording here closely follows that of the former Regulations. There is here this passage: covering all clothing other than headgear, footwear and gloves". It was formerly "rubber gloves". It ought, I think, to be "rubber gloves" here. Only they would be adequate for the purpose. I think "rubber" should be inserted here, and I think that the hon. Gentleman would agree, and if he does perhaps he would have the amendment made.

There is a misprint in the first item in column 1 of Schedule 1. It says: Except where items 2 or 3 hereof apply or where the specified substance", and then there is a misprint. I am sure that the Minister of State for Scotland will remember the days when he was on this side of the House. He will remember the tremendous furore and fuss that he used to make over a thing like this. I merely draw the attention of the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to it, knowing that having done so he will take the necessary action to see that in future printings this does not recur.

I have one further point to make about Schedule 1. I am referring now to Item 2. When it says that special clothing must be worn when DNOC is being used, I suppose that this means when using a product with more than 5 per cent. of DNOC. I ask that because Regulation 3 provides that if 5 per cent. or less DNOC is in a product it is not necessary to wear protective clothing. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be able to confirm that this item in Schedule 1 does not cancel the provisions of Regulation 3 (2,a).

The rest of the Schedule is extremely complicated, and very comprehensive. As the House knows, it takes the place of Schedule 1 of the 1963 Regulations. As far as I can see, it follows closely what was provided in that Schedule, and adds that certain protective clothing must be worn when granules are being applied to the soil. I am sure that these Regulations will be of use to the industry. There are several points which I have not made, but no doubt they will be made by my hon. Friends if they have an opportunity to take part in the debate. We would like to see protective clothing worn on many occasions which are not mentioned in the Bill, but, on the whole, these Regulations will be an advantage to the people in the industry.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will consider the points that I have raised and make the small Amendments which are necessary because of mistakes and omissions. It is a pity that these Regulations have come forward in such an incomplete way, but I suppose we can expect this kind of thing to happen now and again under a new Administration.

11.8 p.m.

Mr. John Farr (Harborough)

Coming immediately after a discussion on the sea fish industry, this discussion may perhaps appear a trifle mundane, but these Regulations are of great importance, and, in their way, concern the safety of all those in horticulture and agriculture who have to use many poisonous substances in their daily lives.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Scott-Hopkins) referred to the complexity of these Regulations, and I should like to remind the Joint Parliamentary Secretary that they are most difficult for an operator to follow. If I may perhaps explain that, I would point out that the original Regulations of 1963, of which no doubt the hon. Gentleman has a copy, were amended by the Regulations of 1964, which had complicated additions in them, and today we are discussing a further Amendment of the 1963 Regulations by this Statutory Instrument No. 76 of 1965.

I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that perhaps this matter is getting a bit out of hand. These Regulations are most difficult to follow, and I should like the hon. Gentleman to tell the House whether there is a comprehensive list of instructions with which operators have to comply, and which is readily available to them. I would like an assurance that they do not have to thumb through a complicated selection of documents of the type we have to discuss tonight.

In general, like other hon. Members I welcome the Statutory Instrument and see the necessity for its introduction, but I should like to know if the hon. Member is satisfied that it is complete. I refer to Schedule 2 of the original Regulations, namely, the Agriculture (Poisonous Substances) Regulations 1963. As he will be aware, that Schedule is split into four parts. In 1964 Statutory Instrument No. 663 added dichlorvos and vamidothion, and tonight, on the back page of the present Regulations, we are adding demeton-S-methyl. Can the hon. Gentleman tell me why a chemical which, in recent months, has been proved not only extremely toxic to many farm animals but relatively dangerous to human beings—trichlorphon—is not included in this list?

Mr. Speaker

We are in difficulties about this. An hon. Member can remain in order in advancing as a reason for not supporting these Regulations the absence of something, but to suggest that the Regulations should be amended by the addition of something else is out of order.

Mr. Farr

I respect your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, but I was referring to this chemical because it has been mentioned in the House on more than one occasion recently, and I thought that it should have been included in the list, perhaps in place of many others which are included.

Mr. Speaker

I follow the hon. Member's difficulties, but we have no power to amend these Regulations. We have either to adopt them or not to adopt them. Therefore, we get into difficulties if we suggest that they should be amended. We become out of order.

Mr. Farr

I thank you for your Ruling, Mr. Speaker.

In that case I will conclude by asking the hon. Member whether he is satisfied that the voluntary notification scheme for chemicals, which I understand has been applied to all the chemicals in these Regulations, has worked efficiently. Since it was first introduced there have been many additions in this vast field, and in recent years, time after time we have come across occasions when it has been proved that there might have been a certain amount of unwanted elasticity in the testing and application of these chemicals.

I therefore ask the hon. Member whether he thinks that it might be time to scrap the voluntary notification scheme and make it a compulsory one. Further, can he let me know what information the Ministry relies upon before deciding whether or not to include a chemical for such approval?

11.20 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. John Mackie)

As both hon. Members have said, these are very complicated Regulations. I would not like to say that I understand them all. Certainly, I do not understand the complicated names of the chemicals.

I have before me a considerable number of notes on the subject with which we are dealing tonight. Before dealing with the specific points raised in the debate, I would put the present Regulations in their context by saying something of the use which has been made of the powers granted under the Agriculture (Poisonous Substances) Act, 1952, to protect workers against the risk of poisoning by chemical sprays and other substances. As the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Scott-Hopkins) will be aware, the Regulations were consolidated in 1963. They prescribed precautions, including the wearing of protective clothing, required for each of four groups of chemicals, which are specified according to their toxicity and manner of use, as the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) mentioned.

The chemicals in the first group are the most dangerous to workers, because they are not only potentially poisonous, but highly volatile. Therefore, apart from other necessary precautions, a respirator must be worn for all operations. The second group is composed of less volatile chemicals, for which the wearing of a respirator is not required when working in the open. The third group consists of relatively far less toxic chemicals, for which fewer precautions are required.

The final group contains the organo-mercury compounds, which, in their normal method of use, involve little or no hazard when used in the open, so protective clothing has only to be worn in greenhouses, where there is an inhalation risk. The Regulations also set out detailed requirements about personal hygiene, washing of clothes, the keeping of records, and the notifications of sickness.

Hon. Members will remember that we had an amending Regulation last year—it has been mentioned—which added some chemicals to the list of those prescribed. The system which we use to ensure adequate protection for workers must inevitably involve some amending regulations. As the hon. Member for Harborough said, we may add something new almost every year. Under the Pesticides (Safety Precautions) Scheme, the Manufacturers' Association has agreed that their members shall notify departments of each new chemical for use in agriculture before they market it, and each proposal for a new use of an existing chemical.

The Advisory Committee on Pesticides and Other Toxic Chemicals advises my right hon. Friend and the Minister of Health and the Secretary of State for Scotland on these matters. That answers the last point of the hon. Member for Harborough. That is the body which advises the Minister on all these chemicals, when they are brought out or changed. If it considers that there is a risk to the user, it recommends that the chemical be included in the Poisonous Substances Regulations.

I should like to look at the Regulations which we are considering tonight, which do five things. First, we have greatly improved the definition of "spraying" contained in the 1963 Regulations, to make clear exactly what we mean by spraying, whether before or after the crop is sown. Secondly, the Regulations have shortened the time—after treatment with mevinphos—during which hops may not be handled without rubber gloves. This used to be four days; it is now 24 hours. This change has been made on the advice of the Committee which I have just mentioned, and brings the provision for mevinphos into line with the provisions in the 1963 Regulations for a similar chemical of comparable toxicity.

Thirdly, they add demeton-s-methyl, an organophosphorous compound, to the third group of chemicals. The Advisory Committee considered this chemical to be reasonably safe to use with proper precautions. Workers must wear protective clothing when spraying this chemical from an aerosol dispenser in a greenhouse, and also when mixing and diluting it. Fourthly, the Regulations exempt certain products containing an existing Group III chemical—dichlorvos—from the provisions of the consolidated Regulations. These products are aerosols containing not more than 0.4 per cent. of dichlorvos, and resin strips impregnated with not more than 20 per cent. of dichlorvos.

The difference between these two percentages may seem extarordinarily high, but the point is that, in the way they behave, these products are considered safe to use if they are within these percentages. From the advice which we have received from the Advisory Committee, we are satisfied that there is no need to require workers to wear protective clothing when handling these products in a greenhouse.

Fifth, and perhaps most important, the Regulations deal with the protection required when the chemicals are applied in granular form. The hon. Member for Cornwall, North asked me how we define a granule. I cannot answer that question. It is like the old story: we cannot define an elephant, but we know it when we see it. There is plenty of granular fertiliser; I suppose that it would be granular if it is not dust or liquid. The production of chemicals in this form is a thing which we want to encourage, since they are much safer to handle than dusts or liquids. They do not need so much protective clothing, and it is clearly in the interests of everyone to make the requirements of the Regulations less onerous if this can be done with safety. The matter has been looked into in great detail by the Advisory Committee, and the Amendments in these Regulations are the result of their advice.

I should tell the House that at present no No. I group chemicals—that is, those chemicals requiring the most stringent precautions—are marketed in granular form, and no relaxation of the protective clothing requirements for this group have been made. The 1963 Regulations require workers using group II chemicals in spray form to wear an overall, hood, rubber gloves, rubber boots, and either a face shield or a dust mask. The Advisory Committee and Government departments concerned are satisfied that when these chemicals are used in granular form, only rubber gloves and an overall or mackintosh are necessary.

However, they consider that all external pockets of the worker's overall or mackintosh should be covered to prevent the risk of granules becoming accidentally lodged in them and thereby slowly releasing the chemical. The worker will also be required to wear gloves with long cuffs so that he can wear the sleeves of his overall over them.

Relaxations have been made where a worker is required to open a container containing a group II or group III chemical in granular form. For instance, it is not necessary for the worker to wear a face shield as it is when the chemical is in liquid form and when it might consequently splash into the face. We are issuing a supplement to our existing explanatory leaflet which explains the new requirements, and I am sure that these relaxations will encourage manufacturers to make up more of their products in this form and that this will make an important contribution to the safety and comfort of agricultural workers.

We have fully consulted all the interests concerned, and, in particular, the farmers' and workers' organisations and I am glad to say that they are in entire agreement with the Regulations. I think that I can say with confidence that the Regulations are another small step towards added safety for agricultural workers and, also, towards securing the use of pesticides in the safest possible form.

I would like to reply, briefly, to the points raised by the hon. Members for Cornwall, North and for Harborough. We have 40 inspectors and 300 field officers and, while it is often said that that is not sufficient number to cover the whole country, it should be remembered that we also put out a lot of propaganda in leaflet and other form on this subject. Allowing for the fact that we should like more, we feel that we have done a great deal.

So far as dinoseb and DNOC are concerned, the hon. Member will see that these are adequately described on page 11 of Statutory Instrument 845 of 1963, in names which I cannot claim to be able to pronounce; names which can best be described as being as lengthy as those on some Welsh railway stations. If the hon. Gentleman will study that Instrument, I think that he will be satisfied.

On the question of the tractor driver being excluded, I think that the answer is that it could be assumed that he would be far enough away for the liquid forms not to worry him. So far as the definition of "granule" is concerned, I have no doubt that the Oxford English Dictionary would give that; and I think that I have answered the question about rubber gloves.

I think that I have mentioned, at least, all the points which have been raised tonight. The hon. Member for Harborough seemed to think that things were getting out of hand, but we have gone into this whole subject very carefully and I would again ask the House not to approve this Prayer.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

How will the hon. Gentleman make these changes about the rubber gloves, and so on? Also, a definition of "granules" is needed. How are the changes to be made, in view of the fact that we cannot amend these Regulations?

Mr. Mackie

I will take advice on the sort of amendments suggested by the hon. Gentleman, but any other amendments would be a different matter.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

There seems to be no other way of amending the Regulations, other than by asking the hon. Gentleman to withdraw them altogether.

It being half-past Eleven o'clock, Mr. SPEAKER put the Question pursuant to Standing Order No. 100 (Statutory Instrumens, &c. (procedure)).

Question negatived.