HL Deb 12 June 1952 vol 177 cc115-8

2.38 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Third Reading read.


My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty to signify to the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Agriculture (Poisonous Substances) Bill, gives her consent, as far as Her Majesty's interest is concerned on behalf of the Crown, that the House may do therein as they shall think fit.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time.

Moved. That the Bill be now read 3a.—(Lord Carrington.)


My Lords, I wish to say a few words before this Bill is passed. I should like to refer to something that was said on the Second Reading—which I do not propose to repeat—with regard to the dangers to people who may be affected by poisons which come outside the protection afforded by this Bill, and to certain people working with the poisons. I hope that my noble friend has passed this question on to the Minister concerned and that it has been seriously considered. There is another question which is far more important than that. I wish to draw the attention of my right honourable friend the Minister of Health to another point, one which I do not think has been mentioned either on the Second Reading or on any other occasion in your Lordships' House. I cannot expect an answer to-day, but I have certain information which I think it is my duty to pass on to your Lordships. I should like to ask my noble friend how Professor Zuckerman's Working Party on toxic substances in agriculture is getting on. I understand that this Working Party has been considering the risks to consumers of foodstuffs which have been treated either during growth or during storage with various substances. The names of these substances are so long that I should probably fumble over them, so I will not try to give them. I hope that this Working Party is about to take oral evidence from the manufacturers, from research associations and from other bodies who have already submitted written evidence.

I understand, on undoubted authority, that there is a certain definite knowledge about this matter. I have not been able to ascertain whether any medical investigations are being made about the possibility of insecticide poisons in connection with obscure illnesses which cannot be diagnosed. The procedure adopted by a certain organisation in the United States appears to be that they remove certain of the fat proportions of the body and analyse these. This would appear to be a reasonably straightforward way of proceeding; and if investigations of this kind have not yet been made in this country in sufficient number, I do not see how, if this is one of the subjects that Professor Zuckerman is investigating, he can arrive at any very useful decision. I hope these investigations will begin forthwith, because the information I have—which, as I say, is based on the best of authorities—is to the effect that the Americans have been investigating this subject very thoroughly.

I am told, on authority which I believe to be absolutely correct, that there is evidence that the mineral content of the soil is reflected in the vegetables and plants which grow in that soil. A good example is calcium, which is not readily absorbed and which is present in the soil most commonly as lime—that is, calcium carbonate—or as calcium phosphate. It would appear that the mechanism by which the insoluble calcium salt enters into the composition of the plant is by the formation at the roots of the plant of the more soluble calcium citrate. Apparently citric acid is formed, by some means, by the roots of the plant. There is much evidence to show that where the soil is poor in calcium then vegetables and plants are poor in calcium. An interesting experiment was carried out in two adjacent districts. The one district which was calcium-deficient produced vegetables and fodder which had a low calcium content, and in that district there developed diseases of calcium deficiency, such as endemic bone diseases of infants, bone softening in pregnant women, and softening of the bone in horses and cattle. In the other district, where the soil was rich in calcium, there was complete absence of such bone diseases. Logically, by analogy, it would surely follow that materials which are readily soluble—that is, those which are contained in sprays and solutions—should be more readily absorbed by vegetables and plants than the insoluble calcium salt.

That seems to me to be a perfectly plain and simple problem to tackle. If this is so—and I have every reason to believe it is—I hope that my noble friend will be able to assure me, and many who are interested in this subject, that the whole of this question is most seriously being gone into. Those of us—and there are many of your Lordships in this House—who do hospital work, and who are in touch with those who are sick (I am not talking only of the professions of medicine and surgery) pick up a certain amount of knowledge, which is perhaps looked upon rather as nonsense by those who have been educated all their lives in every process of medicine and surgery. But, none the less, we are perturbed at the many examples of illnesses which seem to be caused in some such way as I have described. I hope that my noble friend will bring this matter to the attention of the Minister of Health, and if at the present time there are no very exhaustive investigations into this subject, I hope he will be able to give me an assurance that as soon as possible the point will be looked into.


My Lords, during the passage of this Bill through your Lordships' House, I have tried to show that the Bill has only a limited purpose—namely, that of protecting agricultural workers who have to use in the course of their occupation certain substances which we know involve some risk. If my noble friend will allow me to say so, I think he strayed rather widely from the purpose of this Bill. But I think that, during the passage of this Bill, all of your Lordships have agreed that it is a useful Bill, and that the criticisms which we have had from time to time from the noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Barloch, and from my noble friend, Lord Teviot, have been criticisms that the Bill has not gone far enough. I can tell my noble friend that the Zuckerman Working Party are now looking into the possible risk to the health of the general public which the use of these poisonous substances may involve.

Your Lordships may be interested to know that the Working Party have made a good deal of progress. It is difficult to say yet when their Report will be available, but they have now completed the task of sifting the general material already available on this subject, and they have also examined the written evidence which they invited various organisations and interests concerned to submit for the purposes of this inquiry. I understand that the Working Party are now going on to the next stage of meeting these organisations to hear oral evidence, and that it is hoped to complete this stage in the very near future. I think that on the whole your Lordships will agree that this is a useful and necessary measure, and I hope that you will now give it a Third Reading.

On Question, Bill read 3a; Amendments (privilege) made; Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.