§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
THE EARL OF FEVERSHAM
My Lords, this Bill is intended to safeguard human life by regulating the use of hydrogen cyanide for the purpose of fumigation in enclosed spaces. Most of the leading countries have already passed legislation controlling the use of this gas, and the Government wish to afford similar protection to the people of this country. Until lately the use of the gas in this country has been mostly confined to fumigations to kill rats and other vermin in ships and on farms, and also for the destruction of insects—such insects as one finds in greenhouses—but it is now commonly used in dwelling-houses for the purpose of destroying bugs, and for some reason this use appears likely to be on the increase. It is the best fumigant that is known for this purpose, but it is exceedingly lethal to human beings as well as to vermin and insects, and further it has the additional danger that even in fatal concentrations it is not readily noticeable. In April last year there was a tragedy at Aldershot which received considerable Press publicity. The fumigation of certain houses had been undertaken for the local authority by a firm that specialised in the work, and on the return of the occupants to their homes several of them were seriously affected and two children died. It appears that the premises had not been sufficiently ventilated and tested after the fumigation, proper steps had not been taken to ensure that the 188 bedding was free from the gas, and the residues of the gas had not been effectively disposed of.
Fortunately, such accidents are not numerous, but the Government feel that they should no longer rely on the administrative steps which have been previously taken by the various Departments to draw attention to the risks and to prevent the use of the gas without adequate precautions. The Government feel that statutory powers are now necessary. This Bill accordingly confers upon the Secretary of State a general power to make regulations governing the conduct of the fumigation of premises or of articles with hydrogen cyanide. The principal points which are to be the subject of these regulations are set out in Clause 1 (1). Provision is made in the Bill for special exemptions being allowed in the regulations and also for different requirements being applied to different classes of fumigation. Your Lordships will observe that the fumigation of rabbit warrens and fumigation carried out in the open air are specifically exempted. Before making any regulations the Secretary of State will consult the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Minister of Health, and also the Board of Trade and the Minister of Agriculture as regards the fumigation of ships and for agricultural and horticultural purposes.
Clause 1 (4) brings into operation the provisions of the Rules Publication Act, 1893, under which any proposed regulations under this Bill must be published in draft for forty days and any representations that are made considered. The Home Office are anxious that the views of all interested parties should receive the fullest consideration, and your Lordships may rely upon that Department consulting the chief bodies representing those interests before the regulations are finally settled. There is one other small matter to which I should call your Lordships' attention, and that is Clause 4, which enables the Bill to be applied by Order in Council to other dangerous fumigants which may come into use. This clause is adapted from similar provisions in the Petroleum (Consolidation) Act, 1928, but in this case it is proposed that any Order in Council shall be laid in draft before both Houses of Parliament for twenty-eight days in order that any 189 extension of the Act may come under the review of Parliament. I have no reason to think that this Bill is in any way controversial, and I therefore beg to move that it be now read a second time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Earl of Feversham.)
§ LORD MARLEY
My Lords, I desire to say a few words only on this Bill on behalf of the Opposition. We welcome it very much, and I should like to congratulate the Government on bringing in a measure, a small but really valuable measure, for the protection of human life. I know it is not easy to find time for these small measures, but when it is of such value I congratulate the Government sincerely on bringing in the Bill. The pity is that it was not brought in earlier. I am not an expert on bugs. I understand bugs are more prevalent in the summer. In the hot weather—if we ever gel: any hot weather—they come out and have to be dealt with. I am afraid this summer will pass before the Bill can operate. I am not sure I understood the noble Earl correctly—did he say that bugs were on the increase or that the use of hydrogen cyanide was on the increase?
THE EARL OF FEVERSHAM
The use of this particular gas is on the increase for the killing of bugs in dwellings.
§ LORD MARLEY
I am delighted to hear that it is only the use of hydrogen cyanide, and not bugs, which is on the increase; but perhaps they go together. As soon as this gas comes into general use the bugs will begin to show a diminution as the result of the Government's efforts. There are two questions I wish to ask. In Clause 1 (2) it says:Regulations made under this section shall not apply to the fumigation of rabbit warrens or to fumigation carried out in the open air.Does that mean that paragraph (a) of subsection (1) of the same clause, dealing with the regulation of the manner in which the hydrogen cyanide is to be generated, and paragraph (b) of the same subsection, dealing with the prohibition of the carrying out of any such fumigation except by or under the supervision of persons properly trained, shall not apply in the case of the fumigation of rabbit warrens or fumigation carried out in the open air? I am not an expert 190 in drafting, and perhaps the noble Earl can give us the assurance that no matter for what use hydrogen cyanide is being manufactured the same regulations shall apply to its manufacture and transport, and that there will be no modification of the regulations when it is being used in the open air or in rabbit warrens.
The other point—it is only my ignorance that prompts me to put this question—is this: Will the regulations made by the Secretary of State under Clause 1 (4) and under Clause 4 come before the Special Orders Committee of this House when they are laid, or can the noble Earl tell us how the regulations made under these clauses will be brought to the notice of members of the House when they are laid on the Table? In conclusion, I would only say once more that we welcome this measure.
THE EARL OF FEVERSHAM
My Lords, in answer to the noble Lord's first point, so far as I am aware the regulations that govern the production and transport of hydrogen cyanide gas apply to agricultural communities in the same way as they apply to those places where it is being used in confined spaces; but the regulations made by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State will not be so stringent in regard to the gas used for agricultural purposes as they are in respect of gas used in confined spaces. I hope the noble Lord is satisfied that for the purposes of the Bill my right honourable friend the Secretary of State is empowered to make regulations universally to be adopted for the transport of this gas. With regard to the second point, under Clause 1, subsection (4), the Bill brings into operation the provisions of the Rules Publication Act, 1893. Under that Act, as your Lordships are aware, persons interested in the business of fumigation will have the opportunity to lay before the Home Office their proposals for amending the regulations, whereas if the matter was to be dealt with in the form that the noble Lord has suggested, then, in order that these regulations may be amended, it would be necessary for Parliamentary action to be taken. It is felt that in this instance Parliament can well place their trust in the administration of the Department concerned to meet the bodies that are most interested in the question of fumigation in order to arrive at the most suitable regulations to be made.
§ LORD MARLEY
May I put a further question to the noble Earl? Would that mean that in the regulations there would be included something or other which would bring the matter to the notice of those who are going to use hydrogen cyanide for manufacture? Would the regulations be published so that the persons who are making use of this material would not be left in complete ignorance as to whether or not they were carrying out the law.
THE EARL OF FEVERSHAM
Yes; the regulations that are made will lie on the Table of the House, and it is under this procedure that it is necessary that during the course of publication they should be brought to the notice of the interested person within forty days.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.