HL Deb 03 December 1974 vol 355 cc171-81

8.1 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that the Agriculture (Tractor Cabs) Regulation 1974, a draft of which was laid before this House on 5th November, be approved. The purpose of these Regulations is to fix a new date by which all new tractors used in agriculture will have to be fitted with a "quiet" cab. Under the 1973 Regulations this date was 1st September 1975; the date in these draft Regulations is 1st June 1976.

Perhaps I could just remind your Lordships that just a year ago, this House approved the 1973 Tractor Cab Amendment Regulations which required that as from 1st September 1975, all new tractors must be fitted with a cab with a restricted noise level. The introduction of the safety cab has undoubtedly saved many lives on the farm, but it has the unfortunate drawback of concentrating the noise of the tractor which could reach a level where the hearing of the tractor driver might be impaired. The Regulations limited the noise level to 90 decibels on the "A" scale. The date of 1st September 1975 was fixed as being the earliest date by which the industry could meet the demand for tractor cab combinations complying with this new noise level requirement. Unfortunately, we have been advised that the industry now considers it will not be able to meet this obligation until June 1976.

Your Lordships will know that during last winter, industry had many problems to contend with, which hindered production. The tight timetable for the "quiet" cabs, to which the tractor manufacturers were working, was severely disrupted. Representations were received by the Ministry that the manufacturers no longer felt able to meet the deadline of 1st September 1975.

Designing a "quiet" cab is an exceptionally difficult problem and has involved major re-engineering of many of the items involved. The industry has been faced with formidable difficulties and we are satisfied that manufacturers are not now able to meet the original target date. A letter of consultation was sent to all interested organisations and all who replied accepted the postponement, although RoSPA and the NUAAW expressed regret at the necessity for this action. We have therefore accepted that a postponement of nine months is necessary.

Postponing the date will not, of course, affect the flow of "quiet" cabs on to the market and I am sure that manufacturers will do their utmost to meet the demand from the agricultural industry. I think I should stress that there is no restriction on the fitting of "noisy" cabs to tractors supplied to agriculture before 1st June 1976, and that such approved safety cabs will not need to be replaced by "quiet" cabs. Also the date of 1st September 1977, by which all new safety cabs will have to satisfy the noise level requirements remains unaltered. The draft Regulations also consolidate the Agriculture (Tractor Cabs) Regulations 1967 and the Agriculture (Tractor Cabs) (Amendment) Regulations 1973. This action has been taken following an inquiry from the Joint Statutory Instruments Committee when they considered the 1973 Regulations.

Moved, That the Draft Agriculture (Tractor Cabs) Regulations 1974, laid before the House on 5th November, be approved.—(Lord Strabolgi.)

8.6 p.m.


My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, for explaining this draft Statutory Instrument. As will have been heard, it has a considerable history. Those of us who have served on agricultural executive committees over the past several years, until they were wound up, are aware of this particular problem in farm safety, and it is encouraging that in the closing month of National Farm Safety Year these Regulations should be brought before the House for approval.

There are a number of matters which arouse concern, among the principal ones being the question of cost. Going over the history of this particular problem of finding a safe cab, and in addition a quiet one, we have had, as the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, informed the House, a group of Regulations over the past seven or eight years. Perhaps I may be allowed to draw your Lordships' attention to the statement of the noble Lord, Lord Hoy, when in another place on 2lst June 1967, in which he said: Reference was made to the present price of cabs. We expect the price to fall considerably when full-scale production begins. Most unfortunately since that pleasing and optimistic statement was made (in Vol. 748, col. 1671) we find ourselves living in quite a different world. One can appreciate the desire of Lord Hoy (one shared by all of us) for a cheap and safe cab, but unfortunately, the cab which in those days was estimated to cost between £70 and £100 has today attached to it various prices ranging from about £200 to £250 and more. It is an alarming feature that a safe cab and a "hush" cab, if I may be allowed to call it so, is going to be more expensive than a second-hand tractor. This places this special provision beyond the purse of a number of the younger farmers—those on smallholdings and those who are now particularly concerned with the costs of their whole enterprise.

I should like to emphasise that at the end of a very long queue of additional imposts by the present Government, there comes this Regulation which makes it compulsory to fit cabs of a very costly nature. Therefore I would ask the Government whether it is intended to apply a specific grant or some particular tax relief for this purpose. I feel there is a strong case for doing so because by 1977, although we naturally wish today's prices to be held—or to fall, as the noble Lord, Lord Hoy, optimistically suggested—it is quite conceivable that prices may be substantially higher.

I turn to another matter. That is that there is a certain lack of consistency in the Regulations. There are a number of points to which attention has been drawn in another place and there was no conclusive reply from Her Majesty's Government. This is a small point and I do not wish to make a large one of it: it is in regard to Regulation 1(3), which states: A tractor is properly fitted with a safety cab for the purposes"——


That is Regulation 2.


My Lords, it is indeed. I beg your Lordships' pardon. Paragraph 2(3) says: A tractor is properly fitted with a safety cab for the purposes of these regulations if the safety cab is …. (b) equipped with an efficient automatic wiper for any windscreen it may have. Further on in the Regulations, under Regulation 6 an obligation is placed on workers to report overturning or damage and, under sub-paragraph (c), any defect in the windscreen wiper if one is fitted. Perhaps the noble Lord will be kind enough to tell us whether this is consistent or not.

My Lords, finally, there is a matter of management. Your Lordships will be well aware that the freedom to drive tractors without cabs which at present exists is something which in fine weather is a pleasing experience. There are those who suffer from claustrophobia in a variety of different degrees, and it is the contention of some of us that these Regulations might quite possibly make it difficult or impossible for a number of agricultural workers to continue in their present occupation of being tractor drivers. It is therefore hoped that the exemption clauses in regard to this particular malady should be applied with a degree of relaxation and that certificates of exemption should be granted with some ease to those who suffer from claustrophobia. My Lords, I do not wish to say more at this stage about the Regulations, other than to welcome their production before your Lordships this afternoon.

8.12 p.m.


My Lords, I want to say very few words at the end of a long day and not in any sense in opposition to this Order which the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, has moved very clearly and simply and which I support. However, I should like to make one or two comments since my own experience gained in farming and in tractor driving—which I have done for hours and hours in hay and harvest fields—helps me to know something about driving tractors. The first thing that is a little alarming for the ordinary farmer is that this will be an exceedingly costly business. The other day I went to the expense of buying a new tractor, because I did not have one which was sufficiently good for the purpose. I managed to turn in another one against it, which helped to bring down the price, but it was enormously expensive. I hope and believe that it is fitted with a safety cab. I have not examined it very closely, because I bought it before these Regulations were brought forward, but I think it must be.

The number of older tractors on many farms is very great and if one has to alter all the cabs on old tractors—and by "old" I mean those which are two, three and four years old, which is a perfectly good age for an ordinary farm tractor—it will be most enormously expensive.

In addition, I am very much afraid, because one has had this experience before, that when the manufacture of the safety cabs really gets going they will be very expensive. It is very hard, as one has no bargaining power and must take the cab as the manufacturer produces it. One cannot shop around for a cheap cab, because such a thing does not exist at these standards. Therefore, one will have to pay a very high price and this will make a great deal of difference to a lot of farmers, particularly those who do not have a great deal of arable land, who use tractors because they are vital on every farm—the hill farm, the small farm and so on. This will add tremendously to a farmer's costs, and I should like the Government to consider that this will weigh very heavily indeed on a great many hill farmers and small farmers. When the Government are estimating costs and thinking about the Price Review, these costs will definitely have to be taken into consideration.

My Lords, Regulation 5(4), which gives exceptions where it is permissible to use a tractor without a cab, states: Nothing in this regulation shall apply to a tractor— and it lists sub-paragraphs (a) (b) (c) and (d). No doubt this is very good and very valuable, but I should like to suggest that the Government might add one or two other exceptions. For instance, today's modern cattle sheds often have a tractor with a shovel on the front which is taken into them in order to shovel out the dung. It is quite unnecessary to have a tractor with an enormous cab for this work, and it is very unlikely that such a tractor could get inside a cowshed, because the height of these modern "cow-kennels" as they are called, is often fairly low. They do not need to be very high. I should like to suggest that the Government might consider including this in Regulation 5(4). The cleaning of cowsheds, the handling of slurry and the use of the shovel do not require a safety cab or anything at all. They require only someone who can operate a small tractor efficiently.

There is also the fact that a lot of cultivation with tractors is not really dangerous, since it is done on the level on great areas of flat land. There, again, I feel it is possible that a tractor does not need to be fitted with such an elaborate and expensive cab, because the chance of accidents is very small. If one is farming hill land such as that in Wales, Scotland or the West of England, the position is quite different and the safety element is extremely important.

Then my Lords, there is the question of second-hand tractors. This is another factor which plays a great part in the budget of the average farmer because, as I have said, if one buys a new tractor, one can very often turn in a second-hand one against it. Similarly, if one is a farmer who has not a great deal of cultivable land but to whom a tractor is necessary for ordinary farm activities, a secondhand tractor is quite good enough. I hope very much that these new Regulations will not suddenly knock out a mass of second-hand tractors which are very useful and are more within the reach of the small farmer and the hill farmer than the very large and expensive tractor which can take a four-furrow plough or very heavy machinery of one kind or another.

I am very keen about the question which appears under Regulation 3 of the safety cab being fitted with a steel frame of some kind so that it is safe when upset, but I am not so worried about the question of noise, because one can always open the window of the cab if it is a little noisy—I think they all have sliding windows. I have great difficulty in preventing my agricultural workers from removing the doors altogether, because they hate driving with doors and prefer to be able to hop in and out quickly. If they must have a tractor which is very closed in, with doors and windows, I shall be in trouble because I have the greatest difficulty to get them to keep doors on tractors even in the middle of winter, and a great deal of work is done on farms at times of year when the weather is very bad.

I am not so desperately keen on the question of noise. I agree that one should try to have as quiet a cab as possible, but if we are to do away with noise, as the noble Lord rather indicated, one may have to re-design completely the engines of tractors, and that could possibly delay this Order far beyond 1976, which is the date suggested by the noble Lord. "The best is the enemy of the good" is a very old motto and it applies in many cases. There is something to be said—if one has a very large and heavy tractor—for insisting on having a cab, but with small tractors, such as the Massey-Ferguson 135, these are not at all noisy and noise in the cab can be dealt with simply by opening a window.

I wanted to make these suggestions because the importance of these Regulations is very great. I am in favour of them and I do not make these suggestions in any carping or critical way, but simply to give a warning that this could be immensely important in the future. When the Price Review is being undertaken I hope that some allowance will be made in whatever grant aid is given, although no doubt we cannot expect anything to be specified at the moment. Some years ago—I have forgotten how many years but it was probably about ten—we did receive grants for tractors. They were gradually done away with. I do not say this critically, and, indeed, I am not sure that it was not done by a Conservative Government. But those grants were done away with and a certain number of other grants—particularly those on buildings—are today less than they were then.

So I hope the Government will look on this as an obligation which is placed upon the farming industry and which will cost a great deal of money. I am glad that the time schedule has been lengthened because I am sure the manufacturers will never have the quantity required by 1975: indeed, I should be rather surprised if they had them by 1976. I hope that with rising prices and all the other complications we have to face, the Government will be kind enough to include these costs with other rising costs which farmers will have to face when the Order passes, as it will tonight.


My Lords, I feel that the noble Baroness has taken a little of my fire and thunder about tractors, with or without cabs. I am entirely in favour of a tractor which does field work, whether on flat land or hilly land, having a cab, but I think that a tractor which works only around the farm buildings need not have a cab. Would not it be possible for Her Majesty's Government to give two forms of licence for tractors, one with cabs and the other without? The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, answered the question I was going to ask about the fact that secondhand tractors before a certain date will not need to have these expensive new cabs. I am entirely in favour of safety cabs, but there are many justifiable exemptions to be made. These should be examined in much greater detail than time permits tonight, before these new Regulations come into force.

8.25 p.m.


My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, to the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot, and to the noble Earl, Lord Kimberley, for the welcome they have given to these Regulations. I shall do my best to answer the points they have raised.

On the question of the cost of implementation in terms of 1977 prices, which was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, and also by the noble Baroness, I am quite unable to give a forecast. It is a hypothetical question. We do not know the rate of inflation and we cannot estimate the other imponderables in the future. I could give a figure, but it would be a guess and I should prefer not to do that. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, thinks this would be an extra burden on the farming community. I would remind him that this Government have injected £300 million into the farming industry since they came into Office at the beginning of this year. However, we will consider very carefully what has been said about possible future grant aid or relief which might be given in this particular sector, though I must stress that at this stage I cannot hold out any hope.

The noble Lord, Lord Sandys, asked about windscreen wipers and referred to possible inconsistencies between Clauses 2 and 6. The Regulations do not require that a cab frame should have a windscreen. Some in fact are left completely open. But if a cab does have a windscreen then it must have an efficient automatic wiper, and the worker is obliged to report any defect in a windscreen wiper, if one is fitted. I would refer to the relevant words in Regulation 2(3)(b): equipped with an efficient automatic wiper for any windscreen it may have. I am very glad the noble Lord raised that point. It was raised also in another place, where it was out of order, because they had to stick strictly to the terms of this particular Order; but here we can range far and wide over the whole of the farming industry where tractors are used. We are none the worse for that, and I listened with the greatest interest to the points which were raised.

The noble Baroness asked about exemptions. The certificates of exemption under Regulation 8 can be granted for special individual cases; for example, for research and development work. She also asked—and I though this was a very interesting question—whether it was necessary to enforce the same controls on easy terrain such as, for example, airfields. Certain exemptions are already granted in the Regulations, but there is a continuing risk of tractors overturning on all terrains. On level surfaces, accidents can be caused by excessive speed, by turning at speed and, indeed, also by badly adjusted brakes.

The noble Baroness also referred to Regulation 5(4)(a) to (d) covering exemptions, and these exemptions cover situations in orchards, hop-yards and buildings where it is not reasonably practicable to use a tractor with a safety cab fitted. Operations in cowsheds, and other low buildings, are covered also by these exemptions in Regulation No. 5. The noble Baroness also raised the question of old cabs. I can confirm that old cabs will not have to be replaced if they are approved safety cabs. All tractors supplied into agriculture since September 1970, will have had approved safety cabs fitted under the 1967 Regulations.

I was very glad to have the welcome of the noble Earl. Lord Kimberley, to these Regulations. They of course consolidate the existing Regulations which were introduced by the previous Government. These are consolidating and postponing the date, but the policy was the same under the previous Government, whatever the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, may say now in criticism. It was the policy of the previous Government and we are glad to be able to carry it on. They consolidated the existing Regulations which provided a range of general exemptions covering those circumstances where it is not reasonably practicable to operate a tractor fitted with a safety cab. I hope I have answered all the points which noble Lords have raised.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I wonder whether I may press him a little further on the question of cost? Despite his remarks in regard to the expenditure of £300 million since the present Government came to Office, I feel it would not be a sufficient assurance for either my noble friend Lady Elliot of Harwood or for the noble Earl, Lord Kimberley, to hear that this will be borne in mind. I wonder whether he would give an undertaking that he will draw his right honourable friend's attention to our very great concern on the cost of these safety cabs? Furthermore, I referred to the impasse into which the Government have placed and intend to place the self-employed. This is a matter of grave concern to the industry, and the noble Lord will be well aware of the fact.


My Lords, I will certainly give that undertaking. Of course, all these questions are and will be kept under continuous review. We will take very careful note of what the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, has said, and I will cer-

Case Place in which the patient was diagnosed Centre to which the patient was taken for treatment
1. South Western Hospital, London, S.W.9 … Long Reach Hospital, Dartford, Kent.
2. St. Mary's Hospital, Harrow Road, London, W 9 Long Reach Hospital, Dartford, Kent.
3. West Hendon Hospital, London, N.W.9 Long Reach Hospital, Dartford, Kent.
4. West Hendon Hospital, London, N.W.9 Long Reach Hospital, Dartford, Kent.
5. West Hendon Hospital, London, N.W.9 Long Reach Hospital, Dartford, Kent.