HL Deb 14 June 1956 vol 197 cc1000-4

4.16 p.m.

Debate resumed.


My Lords, I am destined to deputise this afternoon. First I deputised for my noble Leader, and now I am deputising for my noble friend Lord Listowel, who unfortunately has had to leave. He asked me to make a number of points on this Bill on his behalf. After listening to the speeches that have been made by noble Lords from all parts of the House, I think that every one of the points my noble friend asked me to make has been made—with one exception; that is the position of forestry. In looking at the definition of "agriculture" in the Bill it would seem that afforestation is not covered. There are a number of dangerous activities associated with afforestation—tree felling, sawing and so on—which one would think ought to be covered. It may be that this matter is covered by other legislation. No doubt the noble Earl will be able to tell us that when he replies. I appreciate that under Clause 18 it is possible to extend the operation of this Bill to similar occupations, and I imagine that afforestation might properly be considered as coming within the powers given to the Minister to extend under that clause. I should be grateful if the noble Earl could tell us whether it is the intention of Her Majesty's Government to extend the operation of this Bill to afforestation.

That is the end of the instruction which I received from my noble friend Lord Listowel. Listening to the debate, however, one or two points have occurred to me which I should like to make on my own account. I should like to emphasise most strongly this problem—and it is a problem—of the 2¼ cwt. sack. I do not think it can be met entirely by machinery. You can have machinery operating most of the way through, but at some stage these 2¼ cwt. sacks have to be handled. And I have known a number of cases in which farm workers have suffered from rupture and have had to be operated upon as a result of having habitually to deal with weights of this kind. What is the remedy? A good many of these heavy sacks are imported. They come in in the condition in which they are exported from other countries. They are used for maize and, in particular, wheat, when it is imported, and other forms of grain are exported in these heavy sacks. I myself have to deal with these things, and I have refused to accept sacks of 2¼ cwt. They have been split up into smaller sacks and I have had to pay the extra cost involved, because naturally I could hardly expect anyone else to pay for it. If the farmer has to deal with smaller sacks, it will mean an additional burden on him. But in my opinion, even 1¼ cwt. sacks are too heavy for people to handle habitually, and I do not believe they can be handled entirely by machinery. It is impossible to have machinery all over the place handling sacks at every stage at which they have to be used.

The only other point to which I should like to refer is the question of children riding on tractors and trailers. Regulations may be made, but I think the effect of prohibiting children from doing this will be to encourage them to do it. I doubt whether, at the end of the day, when regulations have been made, we shall have fewer children riding on tractors and trailers. I do not know the answer to this problem. I wonder whether it is statistically a fact that a substantial number of accidents are caused in this way. After all, there is something to be said for allowing children to ride on tractors and trailers in the country. It gives them an interest in what is going on; and with the depopulation of the countryside and the reduction in the number of men willing to enter farming, I think the sooner we can get children to interest themselves in these occupations, and find that it is thrilling and exciting to work in the countryside, the better. If the noble Earl and his colleagues can find some better way of dealing with this problem than prohibiting children from riding on tractors and trailers, I feel that it would be advantageous.

There is no doubt that this Bill is going to impose a burden on farmers, and particularly on the small farmer. Here I would disagree with my noble friend Lord Wise. None of your Lordships has opposed the principle of the Bill or even any of its details; and I think it is a proper burden to impose. But it is going to be a serious burden on small farmers. I hope that the Government will feel that that burden is a proper matter to be taken into account on the occasion of the Annual Review of Farm Prices. With that reservation, I have great pleasure in supporting the Bill.


My Lords, I am not quite sure what the noble Lord was referring to when he talked about the effect on the small farmer: was it the effect of the Bill as a whole, or of some specific portion of it?


The Bill as a whole. I have mentioned one thing—the extra cost of having grain in smaller sacks—but I had in mind sanitary conveniences, washing facilities and first-aid provision. All of these things, though small in themselves, mean in the aggregate, a considerable increase in expenditure to small men, who are already heavily burdened.

4.25 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful for the warm welcome that noble Lords on both sides of the House have given to this Bill this afternoon. There are a few points to which I should like to refer. The noble Lord, Lord Wise, raised several questions. I must admit that, like the noble Lord, Lord Amherst of Hackney, I do not like his alternative to the word "inspector". It seems to me a bad thing when you start with one word and turn it into three worse ones. I hope we shall not find support for that suggestion. The noble Lord, Lord Wise, shook me a little when he said that we ought to have some: representatives of working farmers and workers. I have been under the impression that the farmers' union and the workers' unions were led by men who had practical experience of farming and were fully capable of making sure that all practical points were fully brought out and discussed, and I should hesitate to move away from that idea. The noble Lord's remarks on Clause 7, on carrying loaded guns on tractors, commend themselves to me. At this stage I cannot say whether it is possible to do anything about it in this Bill, but I will certainly look into the matter, because undoubtedly this is an extremely dangerous practice.

All the noble Lords who spoke referred to children riding on tractors and other vehicles. I would emphasise that the last thing we want to do is to discourage children from taking an early and active interest in agriculture and its pursuits; but the fact is that between five and ten children are killed every year, either by falling off tractors and being run over by the implements behind, or by being run over by the tractors themselves. That is a figure which we cannot disregard. Unpopular though it may be with some parents, I feel that the statistics show that there is a real danger here which we must try to prevent. We do not want to stop children from riding on vehicles on the farm, and I am sure that we shall be reluctant to make regulations dealing with any implement unless we are convinced that they are fully justified.

There has also been a good deal of discussion on the 2¼ cwt. sack. As the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, said, it is a difficult problem, and one which I do not pretend we shall be able to solve overnight. There are at present in use in this country between 13 and 14 million 2¼ cwt. Sacks; and, by and large, these sacks have a life of ten years. So there is quite a problem with which to deal. The maximum weight that a worker should be allowed to lift, or what the final weight of a sack should be, is open to a great deal of discussion. I have no doubt that in time we shall obtain a satisfactory solution, but it will need a great deal of consideration.

The noble Lord, Lord Monk Bretton, was concerned about the provision of sanitary facilities under Clause 3. I would point out that no regulations are to be made under this clause, and enforcement is by individual notice. In conjunction with the Minister of Housing and Local Government, we shall give local authorities guidance on what we mean by the "special circumstances" which will require fixed equipment. If I may return for a moment to the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, may I say that I rather misled him when, in replying to his question I said that the 25,000 men off work included those off work through sickness. The number does include disease which arises out of agricultural work—things like skin irritation, muscular disorders and so on—but it does not include sickness in the general sense.

The noble Lord, Lord Monk Bretton, also raised the question of who would be liable if an accident occurred to a child riding on a tractor. I imagine that the man in charge of the tractor would have primary responsibility, although the farmer, if he were there and saw the child on the tractor and did nothing about it, might also be involved in some responsibility.


Could the noble Earl say something about afforestation?


I am sorry. Forestry is definitely covered in this Bill. As I said in my opening remarks, the aim is to promote the safety, health and welfare of workers in agriculture, which includes forestry. I can assure the noble Lord that this Bill is wide enough to include forestry, and there is no necessity to add anything.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.