HL Deb 21 June 1995 vol 565 cc270-2

2.56 p.m.

The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

What measures they will take to ensure that farmers observe the amended Personal Protective Equipment (EC Directive) Regulations 1992 (S.I. 1992/3139) when they come into force on 1st July 1995.

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, these regulations apply to manufacturers of personal protective equipment (PPE). Other regulations apply to the use of such equipment, including by farmers. Inspectors from the Health and Safety Executive will always be happy to advise on the use of personal protective equipment.

The Countess of Mar

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that reply. Does he accept that under the COSHH regulations a farmer is expected to ensure that both he and his employees are protected from any perceived injuries or other damage to themselves? Does the noble Lord also accept that it is now recognised that OP sheep dips are dangerous to use? Is he aware that I and a number of other people have contacted the Health and Safety Executive and the manufacturers of personal protective equipment? One manufacturer provides equipment with a CE mark, but he will give no guarantee that if it is used for sheep dipping it will protect anyone who is wearing it. Will the noble Lord please say what the legal position is both for the farmer and for an employee if they subsequently suffer ill health from dipping?

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, the noble Countess has asked an extremely complicated question which is essentially hypothetical. She has described in general terms, with which I would agree, the nature of the system which circumscribes the use of such sheep dips. However, I cannot make any comment on a particular analysis of what might or might not happen in the event of some injury being incurred. It would entirely depend on the circumstances of the case.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley

My Lords, has the Minister's attention been drawn to the recent report in the Sunday Telegraph which pointed out that it is almost impossible, if not impossible, to get hold of protective clothing with the correct CE mark because the correct CE mark cannot have been tested in the way that the regulations say that it should be?

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, I believe that the article to which the noble Lord refers is one that appeared in the Sunday Telegraph written by Mr. Booker. The position as described in that article is not correct. The background and research have not resulted in an accurate analysis of the position, and as a result that has caused considerable concern and distress. It is possible to obtain equipment with the CE mark. What is equally important is that, under the law as it now stands, from 1st July this year it will be unlawful for manufacturers to place PPE on the market—that is, into the supply chain—unless it has a CE mark. But any materials of this sort which are already in the supply chain can perfectly lawfully be acquired and used for as long as they are safe.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, as Ministers of the Crown are not averse to making contributions by means of letters to the leading newspapers, will the noble Lord bear in mind the necessity, in view of the accusations that have been made against Mr. Booker, for a letter to be sent to the Telegraph explaining precisely where he was wrong?

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, it is not the practice of the Government to respond to every casual article in any particular newspaper, whether it is a weekly or a Sunday newspaper. Over the years we have taken a great deal of time and trouble endeavouring to make quite sure that the position as regards sheep dipping is entirely understood. We shall continue to do that. I understand that even "The Archers" programme has been involved in describing the position.

Baroness Turner of Camden

My Lords, would it not be better, in view of the criticisms that have frequently been made, if the use of this substance were outlawed altogether? Incidentally, we should thank the noble Countess, Lady Mar, for the diligence with which she has pursued this issue on behalf of those who work in farming. Is the Minister confident that, if it is not outlawed, the Health and Safety Executive has a sufficiently strong inspectorate to ensure that the use of this substance is properly monitored?

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, the noble Baroness is quite right to point out the service that the noble Countess has done in drawing this matter to our attention. There are certain circumstances where OP dips are the best and probably the only form of dip which can he used. In those circumstances we believe, as we have always believed, that provided they are used properly, both in accordance with the law and in accordance with the principles of common sense, there is absolutely no case for outlawing them.

I have every confidence in the ability of the HSE inspectorate to monitor the situation properly. It makes something of the order of 30,000 visits to farms every year, although obviously all of those are not sheep farms. In addition, the inspectorate is currently carrying out a survey, which follows up a survey carried out in 1992–93, on sheep farms to examine sheep dipping practice in the field.

The Countess of Mar

My Lords, the noble Lord said that personal protective equipment in the pipeline need not carry the CE mark. Is he aware that all the instructions for the use of OP sheep dips say that protective clothing must be in tip-top condition and that it must be destroyed if there are any faults in it? Therefore, farmers will be checking their equipment now for the autumn dipping and may want to replace it. What is their position if no manufacturer will guarantee their personal protective equipment for use with OP sheep dips? Is a farmer acting against the law if he compels his workers to wear protective clothing which is supposedly sub-standard when he dips his sheep?

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, the crucial point that I should like to emphasise is that the presence or otherwise of the CE mark has no direct bearing on whether a particular item is sound and suitable for the circumstances in which it is used. That is the test under the COSHH regulations at present.

As I explained, any item which is in the retail chain before 1st July this year can be sold and used lawfully by anybody engaged in this activity. I hope that that makes the position absolutely clear. In individual circumstances, it is for the people in charge of sheep dipping to make sure that they are not acting in breach of the COSHH regulations. Advice is provided in the leaflet, Sheep Dipping, sent out by the Ministry of Agriculture.