HL Deb 06 February 1996 vol 569 cc183-94

7.16 p.m.

The Countess of Mar rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what are the statutory duties of the Health and Safety Executive and the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to ensure that employers and employees carrying out exclusively agricultural operations are kept informed of, and adequately advised on, matters relating to health and safety.

The noble Countess said: In asking the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper, I declare an interest. I have been exposed to organophosphate sheep dip and believe that I suffer chronic ill health as a result.

There are a number of provisions which govern the approval, licensing, advertising, use and disposal of toxic chemicals used in agriculture. The legislation defines the responsibility of the pesticide and veterinary medicine manufacturers, government departments and employers to ensure that those chemicals present no risk to the health of humans, animals or the environment if properly used.

The prime responsibility lies with the end user. It is my contention, and the reason I have tabled this Question, that an individual cannot make a full and proper assessment as required under the COSHH regulations unless he is provided with the information he needs to make that assessment. It is the user's perception of the risk which governs his actions.

OP pesticides are poisons which act on the central nervous system. Of the three which are active ingredients in sheep dips, the World Health Organisation classifies chlorfenvinphos as Class IA (extremely hazardous); diazinon as Class II (moderately hazardous); and propetamphos as Class III (slightly hazardous). Diazinon dips are the most commonly used.

The Farmers Weekly of 7th and 21st May 1965 carried full-page advertisements stating: Boots New Diazinon Dip is completely safe",


"Nucidol Diazinon Dip: Proved safe. Proved effective".

When organochlorine dips were found to leave residues in the food chain and the soil, the OP dips which replaced them were promoted as safer and more environmentally friendly.

When MAFF introduced national dipping orders in 1976, farmers were required to dip their sheep once a year until 1985, twice yearly until 1990 and once yearly until the orders were rescinded in 1992. To all intents and purposes they were compelled to use OPs, for of more than 20 MAFF-approved dips only two were non-OP, and they were nearly twice the price of the others.

Farmers' perception of OP dips, conditioned by advertising and articles in the farming press, was that they were safe. Recommendations for protective clothing were minimal. Rubber gloves included in some dip packs soon perished after contact with the phenolic disinfectant. Not until 1994 were manufacturers required to put a skull-and-crossbones symbol on dip containers to warn of toxicity. Dippers instinctively discarded clothing if the weather was hot and wiped sweating brows with dip-soaked arms, for they knew no better. They made no connection between the flu-like symptoms which developed after dipping and the chemicals that they were using, and certainly did not think that the symptoms warranted a visit to the doctor.

When many developed delayed symptoms such as overwhelming tiredness after minor exertion, muscle pain and weakness, joint pain, chest pain with breathing difficulties and sudden mood changes, they began to be concerned. GPs, untrained in chemical toxicology, either subjected patients to batteries of irrelevant tests which proved negative and decided patients were psychosomatics, or regarded them as psychotic. At best they had ME.

As far back as 1951, Solly Zuckerman, later Lord Zuckerman, chaired a working party which investigated the health effects on workers using dinitro and organophosphorus compounds in agricultural sprays. This was before the advent of OP sheep dips. It made a number of important observations and recommendations. These included simplifying labelling and including the words "Deadly poison" in large letters on containers. It said that it was "imperative" that all concerned be thoroughly educated in the dangers and precautions which should be taken when using these compounds. They recognised that there was no material which combined imperviousness to these chemicals while allowing proper ventilation of the body. Most significantly, it found that repeated low level exposures could result in chronic effects on human health.

The Health and Safety Commission is under the duty to, "make such arrangements as it considers appropriate for securing that government departments, employers, employees, organisations representing employers and employees respectively and any other person concerned with matters relevant to any of these purposes are provided with an information and advisory service and are kept informed and adequately advised on such matters".

Those matters are: Health, safety and welfare in connection with work and control of dangerous substances and emissions into the atmosphere".

My first question to the Minister is this. Why did not the Health and Safety Commission consider it appropriate to advise and inform farmers of the inherent dangers of these substances?

The inactivity of the HSC and the HSE in 1988 when a senior employment medical adviser presented a paper to officers of the HSE and the Veterinary Medicines Directorate is unforgivable. This doctor, who encouraged farmers to come forward at a public meeting and through a television appeal, promised to report his findings to the HSE. He described persistent, delayed symptoms in a group of about 40 farmers and MAFF inspectors. He described multi-system involvement typical of OP exposure, uptake and toxicity. He found that a significant route of absorption was by inhalation, as the inspectors would not have had skin exposure. Also, for other toxic substances such as lead and mercury, the HSE correlates uptake with symptoms and does not rely on measurement of an effect in ascribing cause and effect relationships. The measurement of cholinesterase activity, which is affected by OPs, was by this time becoming discredited. Manufacturers' toxicity tests on animals used urine metabolites as a measure of uptake at least since the early 1980s.

Can the noble Lord the Minister tell me why those tests were not recommended by the HSE to GPs and consultants? Much of the literature which discusses symptoms of OP exposure, including the 1980 version of the HSE guidance note MS17, notes the limitations of reliance upon measurement of blood cholinesterase activity to assess uptake.

The HSE again failed to act upon —in fact, it actively suppressed —a field research project conducted by another EMAS doctor, Carol Davison. In 1990 she found that sheep dippers who were wearing protective clothing had metabolites associated with diazinon in their urine after dipping —an indication that the dippers had, despite their protective clothing, absorbed the OP. Both reports were rejected because they relied to some extent on comments made by their subjects, and consequently they lacked scientific methodology. If a patient does not tell his doctor his symptoms or the cause of his injury, how is the doctor to make a diagnosis?

By 1991 there was increasing evidence of ill health in the agricultural community. Self-help groups were receiving numerous requests for help and advice from sufferers and their families. I ask the Minister why no one from MAFF, the Health and Safety Executive or the Department of Health has ever sought to question or clinically examine a group of reported sufferers to substantiate departmental assertions that the symptoms are diverse and attributable to a number of other causes and that there is no evidence that long term, low level exposure to OPs causes chronic ill health?

Further research by the Institute of Occupational Medicine in Edinburgh in 1992 and 1993 confirmed that OP metabolites were found in dippers' urine whether or not protective clothing was worn. The HSE contracted with the Institute of Occupational Health in Birmingham a study into the neuropsychological effects of long-term exposure to organophosphates in sheep dip. The group had conducted previous studies for the HSE and ICI and its methodology was established. After the contract was made, there were two meetings with HSE staff to refine the protocol. A member of the HSE was on the steering group which monitored progress throughout. This person also represents the HSE on the Veterinary Products Committee. The researchers had no reason to believe that there were any serious reservations about the study by the HSE. I was assured in Written Answers in 1994 that the study was based on good science and that the control group was accepted. The results of this research, published in the Lancet in May 1995 after peer review by an eminent British psychologist and an equally eminent US scientist, received glowing references. The paper has since been accepted internationally.

The researchers found that there was damage to farmers and that there was a dose relationship. Despite all this, the VPC rejected the results of the report in a manner which has been described as disgraceful. Will the Minister state how many members of the VPC have a competent knowledge of neuro-behavioural testing methods and outcomes? Why have the Birmingham researchers not been given the opportunity to defend their integrity in the proper place —the scientific journals?

OPs are now extensively used in agriculture and in domestic situations. There is very little in the literature on the effects on human health of long-term, low-level exposure. We are told that OPs are too toxic to test on humans and maximum levels of exposure are arbitrarily set. We know that different species of animals respond differently to different doses, and yet the results from animal tests are extrapolated to humans. We know that the observed differences in anecdotal reports of human exposure may be genetic or caused by nutritional variations. We know that inhalation is a major route of absorption for many OPs. They are popular because they retain their toxicity to pests for long periods —more than 10 weeks in a lamb's fleece —but we do not know what effect this persistence has on unwary adults and children who may come into contact with them.

We are now in a situation where neither the manufacturers nor the HSE nor the Minister will recommend protective clothing which is both practical and effective. Why is it that, in the face of overwhelming scientific and anecdotal evidence, no government Minister will order that OPs should be available only to licensed users from restricted outlets? Why does the HSE persist in blaming the farmer?

There is a great deal more which needs to be said, but time does not allow. Perhaps I may end with a significant quotation. Dr. T.C. Marrs, senior medical officer at the Department of Health, adviser to Ministers and government committees, and co-author of the current source book Clinical and Experimental Toxicology of Organophosphates and Carbonates said at a meeting of farmers in October 1991, "You don't have to convince me there is long-term damage. I know it". My Lords, why has he not told Ministers?

7.28 p.m.

Lord Blyth

My Lords, I have had brought to my attention recently a number of cases where the Health and Safety Executive does not seem to have conducted field investigations as early as might be necessary to establish the cause of illness which could he associated with misuse of agricultural chemicals. Where it has investigated, there seem to have been attempts to minimise the effect that this misuse might have had. For example, Mr. Richard Bruce of Thorley in the Isle of Wight was ordered by his foreman to empty a spray tank containing what was an unidentified chemical, later found to be pirimiphos methyl which had been standing for several months. After doing this both he and the foreman were unwell and experienced breathing difficulties and severe headaches. Nine or 10 days later, Mr. Bruce was asked to repair the drain in the yard on to which the chemical had been spilled. He worked for a couple of days after that but was obviously so unwell that the foreman told him to stay at home. He has not been able to work since January 1992. His doctors attempted to improve his health, to no avail. They were unaware of the effects of chemical exposure and did not know what tests or treatment should be carried out.

Mr. Bruce contacted the HSE in Basingstoke for advice and information in June 1992. He was told that the new COSHH regulations required the HSE to investigate and that the Employment Medical Advisory Service doctors would help with the tests. At that stage Mr. Bruce did not lodge a formal complaint as he was not absolutely certain that the chemicals were the cause of his illness. Like so many others, he was afraid that he might lose his job and his house. As he had not heard from the HSE, Mr. Bruce contacted PEGS who advised him to ask his GP to refer him to the National Poisons Unit at Guy's Hospital. There, organophosphates were confirmed as the cause of his poisoning and he was advised to complain formally to the HSE, which he did. At no time did the HSE inspectors visit either Mr. Bruce or the farm where he worked specifically to investigate the incident.

There follows a long saga of unsatisfactory contacts extending over three years with the HSE, NPU, the Pesticides Incidents Appraisal Panel, his MP and the Parliamentary Ombudsman. Initially, Mr. Bruce had hoped that the HSE would simply advise his employer how to avoid dangerous practices. He was particularly concerned because the yard was open to the public, including children. When he knew that his illness and inability to work were the result of his exposure to the OP, he felt that he should try to obtain compensation not only for himself but for his family. It is apparent that things started to go severely awry when a High Court writ was issued in November 1994. The NPU withdrew the diagnosis of OP poisoning in a letter to the HSE, copied to Mr. Bruce's GP on 2nd December 1994, while, very strangely, confirming the diagnosis to the Benefits Agency in a letter of the same date. The HSE assured the Ombudsman and Mr. Bruce's MP that they had kept Mr. Bruce fully informed at all stages. Mr. Bruce is a meticulous record keeper and those statements do not seem to tie in with the facts.

Mr. Bruce is now left in a state of limbo. Because his case was not thoroughly investigated at the time when he reported the incidents which led to his illness he has no evidence and is unable to proceed with his claim for damages. He has tried frequently to establish what are the duties of the HSE to investigate and what action it is required to take. He is now in a position where HSE refuses to answer his correspondence.

There is another case of a lady on the Isle of Wight, Mrs. Constance Bradford. In September 1990 she was caught in spray drift and by the evening was feeling very ill. Her GP notes state: Sudden onset of Vertigo, tinnitus, vomiting, nystagmus and blood pressure 180/130". Her GP had her admitted as an emergency case; he thought she might have had a stroke. She was discharged from hospital four days later without any diagnosis. It was only later when she was in contact with spray drift and again felt unwell that she made the association. She contacted PEGS and was advised to report the farmer to the HSE. This she did in early 1994. In March 1995, the HSE wrote to her to say that her hospital notes stated that she had had acute labyrinthitis for three days before admission and that there was no connection with OP exposure. That was clearly an error, particularly in view of the GP notes, but HSE will do nothing more.

I have given just two examples. I understand that there is no legal requirement that HSE advise and inform all those mentioned. The duty of the Health and Safety commissioners to do so and to investigate incidents is discretionary. What is the view of the Government? How serious does an incident have to be before it is thoroughly investigated? What powers do health and safety inspectors and EMAS doctors have to inspect premises and obtain other evidence? If they are all discretionary, is there much point in a worker or member of the public reporting an incident? If not, what is the Government doing to encourage individuals affected by misused toxic chemicals to be aware of their health effects and to report promptly without fear of retribution? And will the Minister look into Mr. Bruce's case to see whether there can be a satisfactory resolution?

7.35 p.m.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley

My Lords, we should all be grateful to the noble Countess for having raised this subject once again in a speech which will be a brief if the unfortunate affair trickles on beyond tonight, which I rather hope it will not. It is time that we reached an end.

The noble Countess has been tireless in coming hack to your Lordships' House and asking the Government about the matter. She is absolutely right to do so. Section 15 of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 lays down that the Secretary of State for Health has power to make regulations except as regards matters relating exclusively to agriculture. They are in the hands of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. I believe that there is a need to clarify the responsibility. We are confronted with at least two government departments which should have some responsibility, plus the various agencies which have been established over a period of time.

As the noble Countess put it, the situation is that we are confronted with many reported cases of chronic OP poisoning. The recent Australian case with damages awarded in a court of law is an added piece of evidence. I do not believe that the noble Countess had time to mention it. The dips are damaging and they should at least be classified as prescription products until the results of the Government's delayed researches are known. The Government's attempt to have a test and certification scheme has been an arrant failure. Scab is on the increase and the cost of alternative treatments is prohibitive.

There are many things that should be done and the noble Countess and my honourable friend Paul Tyler in another place have urged what they are. Ultimately, what is needed is the political will. In all matters of safety, a good Minister takes the bull by the horns and the ewe by the tail and does a hard and tough thing, no matter how much it costs.

The agricultural worker has been on the dirty end for the whole of history. It is time that we ensured that he or she does not suffer in this case any more than he or she has to. It is time that the Government decided not to treat this as something which can be passed from agency to agency, department to department, and research committee to research committee. It needs political will. An injustice has been and is being done, it is endangering people and must be cured.

7.38 p.m.

Baroness Turner of Camden

My Lords, I too am grateful to the noble Countess for once again raising concerns about the health and safety of workers in agriculture. As usual, she has done her homework and clearly knows a great deal more about the problems than many of us.

In 1994–95 farm working became the number one killer of workers, even greater than the construction industry. Fifty-four deaths occurred in the agricultural sector during that year, 32 per cent. more than the previous year. Many Health and Safety Executive surveys have shown that the vast majority of workplace deaths are preventable; in other words, they have occurred because precautions that management could well have taken were simply not taken. But the deaths from major and minor accidents, many of which are under-reported in agriculture, are relatively few compared with the cases of ill health being suffered by those who work in this sector. Some examples have already been given by the noble Lord, Lord Blyth.

The HSE has stated that four out of 10 farmers reported health problems caused by their work, and one in three agricultural workers had to take time off as a result of health problems. Those problems include: pesticide poisoning, including of course organophosphate sheep dips, to which a number of noble Lords referred; diseases caught from animals, such as brucellosis, ringworm, etc.; breathing and chest problems arising from working in dusty and biologically active environments; noise and vibration injuries; repetitive strain injuries (RSI); back-ache and strain; dermatitis and other skin disorders; problems that arise from working in all weathers; long and unsocial work hours; isolation; and fear of BSE, which has recently arisen. The noble Countess has repeatedly raised in this House concerns about OP sheep dips.

The union to which many agricultural workers belong is pressing for the use of the dip to he banned in the interests of the health and safety of farm workers. It is stated that only one in 10 farmers has the legally required certificate of competence to use these sheep dips.

At a recent British Medical Association conference a spokesman for the NFU said that it had members reporting breathing difficulties, nausea, dizziness, and even paralysis. The NFU, he said, found this mounting evidence about OP dips and human health problems extremely worrying. The NFU has also expressed concern at what it describes as the steady reduction in the number of agricultural inspectors. It fears that current levels may be too low to provide an adequate level of assistance. They regard the provision of advice and assistance as crucial, particularly as health and safety legislation becomes increasingly complex. The NFU recently participated with the HE Agricultural Advisory Committee in a joint initiative to produce a model risk assessment for both agriculture and horticulture. Nevertheless, it remains concerned at the level of risk and says it is acutely aware of the increase in fatal accidents reported in 1995.

The Transport and General Workers' Union, representing agricultural workers, also voices its concern about the lack of inspectors. It says that a small farm will be inspected, on average, about once in 30 years. There is also concern about the level of penalties when breaches are identified. There is no prosecution for offences regarded by the HSE as trivial. The average fine for the serious criminal offence of breaking health and safety law is £3,000. That is in general cases. In agriculture, I am informed, the penalty is usually much less. Fines average £500, and are sometimes as little as £100 for serious, life-endangering incidents. The union believes that that is because the magistrates in farming areas are often farmers themselves or the golfing colleagues of farmers.

The union is calling for inspections of agricultural premises at least once a year, and immediately on the occurrence of a serious accident or case of industrial disease. It believes that if health and safety law is seriously broken, prosecution should be taken at a Crown Court and not the local magistrates' court.

Because of lack of union recognition in many agricultural establishments, there are few trade union safety representatives. It is commonly accepted in industry that the presence of trade union safety representatives is conducive to greater safety. The Transport and General Workers' Union therefore believes that the Government should modify the law to provide for roaming safety representatives for non-trade union recognised agricultural workplaces.

The union has also drawn attention to the fact that children often work on farms. Clearly they need special protection. It is felt that perhaps the HSE should initiate a study of children working on farms in order to try to protect them. The same goes to some extent for elderly people, since they often work on farms, particularly on family-owned farms.

Tractors and other moving farm equipment should be subject to an MOT. Many accidents on farms are due to poorly maintained moving equipment. There should be more academic research on occupational safety, health and environmental issues in agriculture. It is alleged that what there is at present is under-funded.

It is clear from the information received from a number of sources that much needs to be done to improve health and safety standards in this vital industry. Many employers in it are suffering the effects of pesticide poisoning, and many are dying as a result. They also suffer the effects of poorly maintained equipment, which causes accidents. These risks are in addition to the risk inherent in the industry resulting from contact with animals, weather conditions, and the unsocial hours and isolation that are part of the working environment.

As the noble Countess so eloquently said, work must be done to see that steps are taken to ensure that workers know how to enforce their statutory rights to health and safety protection. Again, I express gratitude to the noble Countess for sponsoring this important debate. I await with interest the response of the Minister.

7.45 p.m.

Lord Lucas

My Lords, I am delighted to be able to reply to this important debate, launched by the noble Countess, Lady Mar. I had rather prepared myself to reply to the Question on the Order Paper. I am very glad to find that the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, had done so, too. Accordingly, I shall direct the bulk of my remarks to that. I shall certainly pick up some specific points made during the debate but there were far too many for me to be able to reply to all the issues raised. I shall look through Hansard and write to noble Lords whose points I cannot deal with tonight.

The noble Countess knows the answer in some instances because I have replied to her previously. I find myself in disagreement with a great deal of what she had to say. I believe that I have provided her with honest, complete and satisfactory answers to many of the allegations she made. I am sorry that they are not acceptable to her. I shall repeat them in a letter to her in a week or so.

The noble Countess knows our position. After examining all the evidence, we see no clear evidence of chronic effects from non-acute exposures to OP dips or pesticides. However, we are conducting serious and expensive research to find out whether that is true. The noble Countess says we prevented the Institute of Health publishing a rebuttal of the problems we have with its research. That is not true. That is not our intention. We have no wish at all to prevent the Institute of Health publishing anything. I am concerned that the noble Countess has taken advantage of the debate to make a number of specific allegations to which I have no hope of replying and with which I disagree fundamentally.

The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, made but one specific allegation. I suspect that the noble Lord should have known, or at least his colleagues should, that it is entirely inaccurate. The specific case in Australia was concerned with acute poisoning as a result of extremely bad practice by the farmer concerned. It had nothing whatever to do with the long-term chronic effects alleged by the noble Countess and others.

The noble Lord, Lord Blyth, raised a couple of specific cases. As I received no notice of them, I have no hope of replying. I shall certainly look into both and write the noble Lord a comprehensive letter as soon as I am able to. As to the general point he raised, the HSE has complete powers to enter, require information and require the modification or cessation of an activity but it cannot pursue or help with a civil case. I expect that that is an answer on which I shall also have to enlarge, and I will do so.

Health and safety law places the primary duty of care on employers and risk creators. They must make sure they have the knowledge needed to comply with it. But the Government do not leave them to their own devices. They have a major part to play in seeing where guidance is needed and in finding and filling the gaps. Indeed, the Health and Safety Commission has a direct statutory duty to do so, as set out in Section 11 of the Health and Safety at Work Act.

The Government have a number of tools at their disposal. They issue guidance in both written and video form; inspectors give face to face information and advice at the farm, as do the medical specialists of the Health and Safety Executive's medical advisory service. And there are special laws requiring that information is supplied with a range of dangerous products. For two classes of chemicals of particular interest in agriculture, pesticides and organophosphorus sheep dips, there are certificate of competence schemes to ensure that pesticide users and purchasers of dipping chemicals achieve an adequate level of knowledge. That provides the appropriate level of protection and regulation for such chemicals. But, as the noble Countess and other noble Lords know, we keep an open mind on the subject. The Veterinary Products Committee is to review the matter in the spring. We shall pay close attention to what it says.

How do we decide what information to give and how? First, by intelligence about what is actually happening on farms and the problems that are arising. We have accident and ill-health statistics and the observations of inspectors as well as the views of both sides of the industry itself. The Health and Safety Commission's agriculture industry advisory committee is an invaluable mechanism for the transmission of those views. In identifying and responding to the information needs revealed by that intelligence, officials consult widely to make sure that their picture is a shared one.

Secondly, we make use of expert scientific analysis of hazards. Pesticides and veterinary medicines may not be marketed unless they have statutory product approval. The process includes consideration by independent scientific experts in particular of the information about risks and safeguards that must be supplied to the user.

The noble Countess, Lady Mar, asked whether the Veterinary Products Committee had the necessary expertise. Yes. Its medical and scientific panel includes a consultant neurophysiologist, a professor of clinical psychopharmacology and a professor of neurology. We believe that between them they have all the necessary expertise to come to the right kind of judgments. In making decisions we have to get our overall priorities right and make sure that we stimulate attention and effort where it is most needed. We must recognise, for example, that a farm worker is far more likely to be injured by a tractor than poisoned by sheep dip.

The noble Baroness, Lady Turner, says that there are 54 fatal accidents a year. I do not have the figure with me but I know that that is about right. I do not believe that a single one is due to chemicals poisoning. A very small proportion of overall injuries in farming is due to chemicals poisoning. But we recognise that people have understandable worries about particular risks, even if they are not reflected in the relative level of actual harm that is caused, and have a reasonable claim to information and advice. There are nice balances to be struck in judging what to provide. The agriculture sector has its own culture and traditions to be borne in mind when thinking about how best to communicate. Our collaborative approach is typified by the new pesticides forum announced this month.

Against that background I want to illustrate in more detail what is done in some of the areas that I have mentioned. The range of guidance material available to the agricultural sector is huge. It includes more than 40 free publications ranging from advice on safe handling of bulls and avoiding the transmission of disease from animals to humans to the safe use of machinery and working on glasshouse roofs. Detailed guidance is published for occupational hygienists on biological monitoring for the effects of exposure to organophosphorus compounds.

The results of eight contract research projects have been published, ranging from braking stability on all-terrain vehicles to the ergonomics of cropsprayers. Approved codes of practice give practical guidance on compliance with legislation. The effort made to publicise the material and to raise awareness generally is similarly wide ranging, assisted by the Health and Safety Executive's information and advisory service. Ten videos are available dealing with health and safety in agriculture and BBC2 is currently showing a selection of them. Advertisements are also used to draw attention to particular topics and publications. In 1995 there were no fewer than eight separate national advertising campaigns on agricultural health and safety. Inspectors and other officials attend around a hundred agricultural shows and exhibitions every year at which they give advice and distribute guidance material. Inspectors also have a crucial part to play during visits to farms. They routinely advise on legal requirements, risk assessment and safeguards. They lead employers through a hierarchy of preferred approaches; avoiding risk altogether, controlling it by engineering means, by systems of work and, in the last resort, by personal protection for the exposed worker. They help in the development of management systems and the assessment of training needs.

Employees are informed of inspectors' findings and employers are reminded of their own duty to inform also. From time to time special projects are carried out in which a co-ordinated series of visits is directed to a specific topic, for example, sheep dipping or overhead power lines. At a more collective level, inspectors act by advising influential intermediaries, notably trade unions and trade associations.

The noble Baroness, Lady Turner, mentioned the TGWU roving safety representative scheme. That has had active HSE support from the start and will continue to have it. It is an excellent example of what unions can do and something of which the unions should he thoroughly proud.

I return briefly to the information that must be supplied with substances and other products sold for use in the workplace, a form of information and advice which the user cannot fail to encounter. The statutory approval regimes for pesticides and veterinary medicines require the provision of label information covering the risks and essential safeguards. Other toxic substances are subject to comprehensive information provision requirements. New machinery must be supplied with information about its dangers and safe use. In this whole field of product information, difficult but important balances again have to be struck —giving information that is technically detailed enough but graspable by the lay person and giving information that is comprehensive but not so lengthy and dense that the reader is deterred.

The noble Baroness, Lady Turner, mentioned NFU concerns about the number of inspectors. I admired her for finding NFU skates on which neatly to turn around the problems created by the shadow Chancellor in not being allowed to suggest that the Labour Party shares the NFU's view.

The Government take very seriously their duty to advise and inform on health and safety matters. I have tried to indicate the range of ways in which they fulfil their responsibility in the agriculture sector and the professionalism of their application of those methods. We are proud of what has been achieved. We do not rest content. We are always looking at the scope for improvement.

The noble Countess, Lady Mar, will know from her own experience and researches how much has been achieved over the past 20 years. She should not he surprised when she looks back to discover that current practice is better than it was. That applies equally to safety advice and to scientific techniques. I hope that the House will agree that our effort is comprehensive, balanced and well focused and that it makes an indispensable contribution to the health and safety of people who work on farms and holdings up and down the country.

Viscount Long

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 8.15 p.m.

[The Sitting was suspended from 7.58 p.m. to 8.15 p.m.]