HL Deb 27 May 1952 vol 176 cc1460-5

3.7 p.m.

Amendments reported (according to Order).

LORD DOUGLAS OF BARLOCH moved, after Clause 9, to insert the following new clause:

Restriction on sale of other poisonous substances

" .No person shall manufacture and offer for sale or import and offer for sale any poisonous substance or any preparation containing a poisonous substance, other than the substances to which this Act applies by virtue of Section 9, unless he has previously delivered to the Minister and the Secretary of State particulars of the nature and contents of such substance or preparation, of the name or trade mark under which it is intended to be sold and of the grounds upon which he considers that it may safely be used in agriculture:

Provided that this Section shall not apply to any substance or preparation which was in economic use in agriculture prior to 1st January, 1935, or which is intended to be used solely for research and experiment."

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I can best introduce this Amendment by referring to two observations which were made by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, during the discussion upon the Committee stage of the Bill. First, he said (OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 176, col. 1199): Obviously, it is the duty of a manufacturer of a new weed-killer to see that its properties are well known. He should carry out the necessary tests and trials and state clearly on his tins and containers what danger there is in the use of the poison. Then, at a later stage, in reply to an inquiry which I made as to what means of information the Ministry of Agriculture had of the introduction of new poisonous substances, he said (col. 1200): We have most excellent contacts and relations with the manufacturers of these substances, and we are not entirely ignorant of what goes on. However, I am not satisfied that that is completely the case because, as I have already pointed out to the House, one of the poisonous substances against which this Bill is directed is one which was well known to be a poison. It had been used as a drug for medicinal purposes, but its use had been discontinued since it was found to be poisonous and a number of people died as a result of its being prescribed for them. That is a substance for which, in fact, there is no known antidote. Now that substance was put into use for agricultural purposes, and a number of people died as a result. It appears that neither the manufacturers nor the Ministry of Agriculture, in that case, were informed about the situation, otherwise this regrettable series of accidents would not have taken place.

The object of this proposed new clause is to make certain that the manufacturer will be under not merely a moral obligation but also a legal obligation to consider the nature of the substances which he is offering for sale; that he will be under an obligation to deliver particulars to the Ministry of Agriculture, so that they may also direct their attention to it, and may be in the position to consider whether or not they should make an order, such as is provided for in this Bill, for regulating the means and the manner by which this substance is used. That is the purpose of the Amendment: to improve the machinery of the Bill, to increase the facilities for enforcement and to provide an additional safeguard for workers in agriculture whose health it is the object of this Bill to protect. I therefore have very much pleasure in moving this new clause.

Amendment moved— After Clause 9, insert the said new clause.—(Lord Douglas of Barloch.)


My Lords, I view the whole of this Bill with great apprehension. Undoubtedly the use of these very strong poisons, as the noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Barloch, has said, has already caused damage to the health of a considerable number of people, and in some cases has even caused death. I hope that my noble friend Lord Carrington will be able to accept this Amendment, and so tighten up any orders or regulations that may be necessary to implement the whole question of protection in the use of these poisons. I am sure that my noble friend appreciates the danger of them, and if he possibly can tighten up whatever are necessary in the way of regulations or orders, I am sure that it will be greatly to the benefit of a great many workers who deal with these poisons. I have great pleasure in supporting the noble Lord's Amendment.

3.13 p.m.


My Lords, I fully appreciate, and indeed have some sympathy with, the Amendment which the noble Lord has moved and which my noble friend Lord Teviot has supported, although I am sorry that neither the noble Lord, the mover of the Amendment nor my noble friend will accept my view that we can give the agricultural worker adequate protection under the provisions of the Bill as it now stands. I do not think, however, that this Amendment would be at all suitable. If it were accepted it would be bound—although I realise that that is not the noble Lord's intention—to seem to the public that substances notified to the Minister under Statute had been approved by him. But, as I said on the Committee stage, any idea of approval by the Minister is not acceptable to Her Majesty's Government. As the noble Lord emphasised this afternoon, when he repeated the words I used on the Committee stage, it is the manufacturers' job and not the Government's job to see that the properties of these substances are known, and it is their duty to carry out the necessary tests and trials. I can see no reason why this duty should be lifted from them at the expense of the taxpayer. The function of the Government in regard to poisons generally is to see that, where poisons are used, suitable safeguards are adopted; and it is not their function, I submit, to approve or disapprove of poisons for particular uses.

I doubt whether the arrangements necessary to put the noble Lord's Amendment into effect would be practicable. It would mean that Government Departments would have to set up an organisation to investigate anything which manufacturers might put forward. Furthermore, the word "poisonous," in the way it is introduced into this Amendment, is not used or defined in the Bill as it now stands. This would mean that the manufacturers would have to decide what was or was not poisonous, and there would be no control over the varying standards they might adopt. There would inevitably be long delays before products could be put upon the market, because of the need to make thorough tests which would either duplicate what manufacturers should already have done or would do at public expense what the manufacturers ought to do. In addition, there would be a serious risk of holding up development. I do not think, therefore, that we can accept the noble Lord's Amendment, and I am sure that the best way to achieve what we all wish for is to work closely with the manufacturers.

As the noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Barloch, will know, the Zuckerman Working Party considered this problem but did not recommend that statutory requirements should be imposed upon the suppliers in the way that the noble Lord's Amendment would do. They suggested only that the Agricultural Departments should satisfy themselves that their arrangements for obtaining information about new substances were adequate. In point of fact, as I said on the Committee stage, we receive prior information about most of the new substances which it is proposed to put on the market, although, of course, this information is not so much concerned with the precautions to be taken in using the substances as with their effectiveness as insecticides and weed-killers. Discussions on recommendations of the Zuckerman Working Party have taken place and are continuing between the Agricultural Departments and the manufacturers. The principle that there should be prior information about any new toxic products which it is proposed to market has been fully accepted by the manufacturers, and they are at present considering the detailed arrangements that might be made for notification of such new products, with a view to submitting a draft scheme for our consideration. There are still some problems, such as patent rights, to be solved, but I am confident that the voluntary arrangements on the lines recommended by the Zuckerman Working Party can and will be made. I therefore hope the noble Lord will agree with me that this is the best way of tackling the problem and, in view of what I have said, will withdraw his; Amendment.


My Lords, I am afraid that the noble Lord has quite misunderstood my Amendment. It says nothing at all about imposing an obligation upon the Ministry of Agriculture to test or to certify or to examine any of these substances. All it does is to impose an obligation upon the manufacturer to notify the Ministry of Agriculture of the nature of any substance which he proposes to place upon the market. That is the only purpose of the Amendment—there is nothing else in it at all. There is nothing in it which requires the Ministry to make any tests; there is merely an obligation to communicate some information to the Ministry of Agriculture—that and nothing more. The noble Lord therefore is quite wrong in saying—


My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, but this is a Motion on Report, and I do not think the noble Lord has the right to speak a second time—I am sorry, I am now informed that he has. I beg the noble Lord's pardon.


My Lords, I moved an Amendment and I am entitled to reply.


That is quite right. I beg the noble Lord's pardon.


My Lords, before I was interrupted, I was saying that there is nothing in this Amendment which imposes any obligation upon the Ministry of Agriculture to do anything. It is designed merely for the purpose of ensuring that the Ministry of Agriculture has information, and I have made this proposal purely as ancillary to the purpose of the Bill. As noble Lords will recollect, the Bill applies especially to two classes of substance, and contains a provision for it to be extended to others. It is in order that the Ministry may have an opportunity of considering at the earliest possible moment whether they should or should not extend it to other substances, that I wish to make certain that the Ministry are informed. The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, says that in practice the Ministry are informed, but he has never explained the regrettable circumstances connected with the use of D.N.O.C., which was a well-known poison, about which they were not informed.


My Lords, if I may interrupt the noble Lord for one moment, the regrettable circumstances with reference to D.N.O.C. are exactly the reason why we have introduced the present Bill.


Precisely; after the event, because it was not known. That is the whole purpose of the Amendment which I have proposed.


My Lords, does the noble Lord seek to withdraw his Amendment?


My Lords, I do not, as a matter of principle.

On Question, Amendment negatived.