HC Deb 03 July 1959 vol 608 cc842-58

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Finlay.]

2.38 p.m.

Mr. Bernard Braine (Essex, South-East)

I am glad, Mr. Speaker, that you have accorded me this opportunity of raising a matter which concerns a number of my constituents who are horticulturists, as well as horticulturists elsewhere in the country.

We all welcome the way in which the scientist has been coming to the aid of the farmer. One of the most exciting and significant developments of modern times has been man's increasing capacity to make two or three or even four blades of grass grow where only one grew before. Recent years have seen the introduction, on an ever-increasing scale, of chemicals for the purpose of controlling pests and weeds and thereby increasing crop yields. Undoubtedly, great benefits flow from the use of these new materials. But my hon. Friend will have had the opportunity of studying that authoritative book "Weed Control" published by the British Weed Council, whose president, I understand, is Chief Scientific Officer to his Ministry. That book frankly admit that these materials have been introduced so quickly that this has resulted in a situation where often those intimately connected with the subject cannot readily keep in touch with the new developments. Quite serious disadvantages have begun to flow from the use of these materials on the farm. It behoves us all, I suggest, to retain a little humility in this matter, since man is never quite able to assess the damage he does When he seeks to discipline Nature. The truth of this has been recognised for a long time. My hon. Friend will, no doubt, remember that Horace warned us: If you drive Nature out with a pitchfork, she will soon find a way back. How is it possible, for example, in the case of pesticides, those chemical substances used to destroy harmful birds and insects, to ensure that harm is not done to useful birds and insects which get in the way? It is not possible. Useful birds and insects are being destroyed, and one day we shall have to count the cost.

Where weed killing chemicals are concerned, a different kind of problem arises. These chemicals, usually of the plant hormone type, are selective in their application. That is to say, they have the capacity to destroy weeds growing with the crop plant without destroying the crop plant itself. There is no doubt that for this purpose the chemicals are very effective indeed. They are a wonderful boon to the farmer and their use is bound to grow as the years go on. As my hon. Friend knows, weed killers of this type are used in the cornfields and are based on two chemicals, popularly known as 24D and MCPA. They are available in either powder or liquid form. When in powder form, they are applied by powder blowers or manure distributors. When in liquid form, the usual method is to mix the concentrate with water and to spray mechanically.

When applied as a wet spray, two distinct methods of application can be used. First, there is the high volume method where a given amount of concentrate, say one or two 1b. of material, is applied per acre in a comparatively large quantity of water, perhaps 50 to 100 gallons. Then there is the low volume method where exactly the same amount of concentrate is applied over the same area, but diluted with very much less water, say 10 to 15 gallons.

My hon. Friend will know that in high volume application the droplet size of the liquid will be much larger than is the case in low volume application, where the spray becomes a mist. In low volume spraying, obviously it becomes very difficult indeed, if there is the slightest breeze, to prevent the droplets drifting considerable distances with the wind, and there is always the danger that different crops on neighbouring land may receive the spray and be damaged by it. The same danger exists with chemicals distributed in powder form.

My hon. Friend knows well that grave damage has been caused, and is being caused, to tomato crops both in the open and under glass, to lettuce, to top fruit and a wide variety of valuable horticultural products over wide areas of the country. Growers in my constituency have been seriously affected, and in the corn-growing areas of the country as a whole people have lost whole crops of tomatoes, lettuce and blackcurrants, with consequent financial loss. Many private gardens are also affected. There, of course, not a great deal is known about the extent of the damage because people are quite unable to attribute the cause for their failing crops. They do not yet realise what is happening.

The difficulty is that damage may be caused to susceptible plants by relatively minute quantities of spray. I shall give an illustration. Take a common weed with which we are infested in Essex and which we call "fat hen". In more polite parts of the county the weed is known as Good King Henry. "Fat hen" is strongly susceptible to 24D sprayed in a dose equivalent to a mere 5 oz. of material over a whole acre. In other words, no more than half an ounce of this deadly weed-killing chemical is enough to eradicate "fat hen" over an area of almost 500 square yards. It is not surprising, therefore, if an infinitesimal amount of this spray happens to drift over the hedges to a susceptible crop in adjoining fields or seeps under open glass on a nearby holding where it can do very serious damage. Even if spray drift does not kill the plant outright, growth and cropping is often affected to a commercially disastrous extent.

Thus, wherever these chemical sprays are used, danger is present and the danger is at its greatest where farms are intermixed with horticultural holdings growing a wide range of susceptible crops. This in the case of south-east Essex, although the problem is also serious in certain other areas of the country. I do not wish to make the claim that the problem is more acute in south-east Essex than anywhere else, but it is acute enough for very grave concern to have been expressed to me on more than one occasion by our local growers. It may be of interest to my hon. Friend to know that the seriousness of the problem is underlined by the number of hon. Members who have been to me in the last two or three days saying how delighted they are that you, Mr. Speaker, have given me the opportunity of raising the subject because it is a matter also of concern to them and to their constituents.

Unfortunately, we have no certain way of knowing just how widespread the damage is and how great is the problem with which we are dealing. Where there is serious loss, the grower informs the National Farmers' Union and if he is a producer of tomatoes or cucumbers he informs the Tomato and Cucumber Marketing Board. In some cases he informs the National Agricultural Advisory Service. But many cases are not detected in the sense that damage is only partial, while many cases are settled by growers "over the hedge" with their neighbours and while this is a satisfactory method so far as it goes, it means that many cases do not figure in the statistics at all.

I am told that so far this year the National. Farmers' Union has been advised of eighteen cases, spread from Suffolk to Monmouthshire and from Lincolnshire to Sussex. No fewer than half of these came from my own county of Essex. The Tomato and Cucumber Marketing Board has advised me that it had had thirty-six cases notified to it up to 30th June this year, all of which concerned crops grown under glass. This figure of thirty-six for the first six months of this year compares with twenty-five cases for the whole of 1958. and twenty-three in 1957.

I recognise, and I am sure that growers recognise, that there are acute difficulties in finding a remedy. First, there is the difficulty of proving the culprit, since if the conditions are suitable on adjoining farms, spraying may take place on a number of those farms on the same day, and spray is known to drift for considerable distances of up to a mile.

Secondly, there is the difficulty of diagnosis, of being absolutely certain that the damage has been caused by a particular chemical. Thirdly, there is the difficulty of separating the direct effect of the spray drift upon a particular plant from possible indirect effects, such as making a plant more susceptible to fungus diseases. Finally, there is the difficulty of assessing the extent of the damage, since the full effects may not be known, and often are not known, until the end of the growing season.

My hon. Friend knows better than most hon. Members that this damage can cause acute embarrassment and even hardship to growers, who have a diminished crop through no fault of their own and who lack the liquid capital to enable them to tide over until the next growing season. He must know that their anxiety is all the greater since it is well known that only a small proportion of the reported cases will ever be settled in a satisfactory fashion. My information is that not more than one in every four of the cases reported this year to the Tomato and Cucumber Marketing Board will receive compensation. That is because of the obvious difficulty of establishing responsibility for spray drift.

What can be done to meet this distressing situation? I would not be dogmatic about this. I am raising the matter today in the hope that we can make a constructive approach to the whole problem. There are two obvious courses which I hope that the Ministry will take. First, it is clear that much more must be done, and done soon, to devise practical methods of protecting growers and compensating them for the damage sustained. As far as I can discover, nothing has been done in this direction up to now. There has been a great deal of talk and there have been many conferences and exchanges of view, but as yet nothing practical has emerged. Secondly, there is a crying need for much more to be done in the field of research in order to ascertain how these chemical materials operate. Are they being applied in too great a concentration? Are there new and improved techniques which could be used and which would reduce these disastrous effects? We need research also into the effects upon susceptible plants.

There is also a need for education. Maybe in this respect the Ministry can lay its hand on its heart and say, "We have done quite a lot in this direction to bring home to those who use these materials, and those who may be affected by them, what is at stake." I am told that if every farmer applied the knowledge which now exists the damage could be sharply reduced. For example, if spray pressures were reduced from the more normal 30 lb. to the square inch to 10 or 15 lb. to the square inch and if the most recently developed nozzles were employed, the droplet size would be much larger and drift less likely.

I do not say that the Ministry have not been undertaking education, but I hope to hear from my hon. Friend that the Ministry is prepared to do a great deal more to supplement the efforts being made in this direction by the National Farmers' Union. I understand that the Essex Branch of the union, in conjunction with the Agricultural Research Council, has taken the initiative in promoting a certain amount of research. Hitherto the emphasis has been on producing ever-better chemicals for the purpose of eradicating weeds, but research which is now being undertaken, I am told, is directed towards finding out much more about the effect of chemical sprays upon susceptible crop plants. I am told that very useful work is being done on vegetables at the Wellesbourne Research Station and that work is being done on tomatoes at Nottingham University. Perhaps my hon. Friend will say something about that and about the necessity for still more research along those or different lines.

The House will appreciate the need for additional research of this kind, if only to help the victims of spray damage. There is no doubt that damage is being inflicted. There is no doubt that it is becoming increasingly difficult to prove who has caused the damage. A remedy at common law is therefore rarely available. I am advised that out of all the known cases, liability can be established completely in only about one out of every ten.

I am told that the victim very often has to incur an expenditure of £50 to £100 in order to take a case to court. Experts have to be employed, photographs have to be taken and the damage has to be traced backwards across the fields from hedgerow to hedgerow to its source. The local conditions have to studied in great detail. All that costs money. It is asking a man to undertake a gamble if he has to spend £50 to £100 in order to recover, say, £200 or £250, especially when his net income may be no more than £500 to £700 a year. In other words, if a case is not absolutely cast-iron and is not half admitted, before it is started, by the man who has caused the damage, then the chances of a remedy at common law are negligible.

It is true that the grower can take out an insurance, but in my view insurance premiums taken for this purpose are a most unjust levy upon one section of farmers in order that another section of farmers may increase their yields and their profits. In any event, in Essex we are finding that the insurance companies do not like this kind of selective risk business. I do not want to say too much about this aspect, but the companies sometimes refuse to take the business, and almost invariably they impose onerous conditions. If we can improve the existing methods of diagnosis of the cause of spray damage to a particular crop, or devise new methods of diagnosis, the case for some kind of machinery which will ensure that fair compensation can be paid for proven cases becomes that much stronger.

That brings me to what many in the industry and in my own constituency think that the Minister should do. My hon. Friend knows that the National Farmers' Union has suggested that there should be a fund for this purpose, to be raised by levying a small surcharge on spraying material. This would not make any difference to manufacturers' sales. It would not affect their exports. Having regard to the level of likely claims, it would involve a total of not much more than £50,000 a year, or a few pence per acre of crops sprayed. This seemed to me to be an eminently sensible idea, but it has been turned down by the Ministry. Why has it been turned down? Is it because the Ministry lack the power to compel the manufacturers to set up a fund of this nature? We are entitled to know.

There are thirty-seven firms manufacturing hormone-type weed killers. Industrialists are not fools. They are usually sensitive to any suggestion, that their products are causing damage and would lean over backwards to avoid legislation compelling them to do what any fair-minded person thinks is right and just. If there are elements among the manufacturers who are being un-co-operative, it is about time that the Ministry got tough with them. One of the purposes of Parliament is to give voice to the legitimate grievances of Her Majesty's subjects. This most valuable section of the community—hard working, usually very self-reliant, contributing about one-tenth of the total output of our leading industry—is suffering injury, and it knows that the injury is bound to grow, but in the majority of cases justice is being denied.

The Ministry is in grave danger of laying itself open to the charge that it is indifferent to this problem. I do not believe that that is the case, and I hope that my hon. Friend will make it absolutely plain that it is not the case and that vigorous steps will be taken to devise a suitable voluntary scheme for compensation, in default of which it may be necessary to use some form of compulsion.

There is another related problem which is causing concern and about which far too little is known. I refer to the effect of these chemical substances upon the bird and insect life of this country. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lewes (Colonel Beamish), whose interest in this matter is well known to the House, has already raised the question. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds informs me that birds, including game birds, are being destroyed in large numbers by the use of chemical sprays, though in the nature of things it is almost impossible to assess the extent of the loss. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Horncastle (Commander Maitland) told me only yesterday that constituents of his had been expressing anxiety on the same point. This is a subject on which Parliament cannot be indifferent, because only a few years ago we legislated in order to protect the wild birds of this country.

I understand also that useful insects are being affected on an increasing scale. Only last week in my own county of Essex it was reported that one million bees died. How one assesses the exact number of bees which have died I do not know, but it was reported that a million bees had died flying to their hives from bean fields sprayed with a pesticide designed to get rid of blackfly. At any rate large numbers of hives were destroyed in Essex last week. It may be that the widespread use of pesticides is inflicting grave and irreparable damage to the wild life of this country. Certainly my hon. Friend will agree with me that widespread slaughtering of bees is bound to have an injurious effect upon food production.

In my view, the time is overdue for the Ministry to undertake some field investigations to establish the facts. It may be that the danger is exaggerated. It may be that the danger is far worse than any of us suspect. What are the facts? I hope that my hon. Friend will give us an assurance that some investigation will be carried out.

It is not as though these materials are not known to have these effects. A Shell Chemical Company advertisement appeared in the Farmer and Stockbreeder a year or two ago depicting pigeons pecking at various crops. It reads: Pigeons on your mind. Evidence has accumulated to suggest that pigeons are allergic to Dieldrex 15, the dieldrin-based insecticide for 'fly' and other insect pests. It's a fascinating possibility and one which we are investigating. A number of enterprising farmers have also decided to give pigeons a run for their Dieldrex this coming summer. You may think it worth trying too—pigeons are real crop-wreckers and Dieldrex 15 is very inexpensive. We offer no prizes but shall be delighted to receive progress reports from anti-pigeon pioneers. Scientists are mighty men, and the great Shell organisation is powerful, efficient and enterprising, but if their chemicals can kill pigeons they will kill other birds, too, and I should have thought that a little more thought might have been given before such a product as that was advertised, to the likely consequences of using such material on our farms. I suggest that more attention should be given to the legal aspect of using these materials, because if it is wrong for anybody to destroy our protected wild birds by shooting or snaring, it is also wrong to destroy them by spraying chemical substances which the manufacturers know in advance must have that effect.

The Protection of Birds Act, 1954, lays down that any person who … wilfully kills, injures or takes, or attempts to kill, injure or take, any wild bird … is guilty of an offence.

Here we have a case in which it is known that materials used in agriculture may kill certain wild birds and insects, and which, therefore, is certain to kill all the birds and insects. I hope that my hon. Friend will tell us what protection a manufacturer, spray contractor or farmer has if anyone sues him under the 1954 Act.

I hope that my hon. Friend will appreciate that my purpose this afternoon has not been merely to focus attention upon a problem that concerns my constituents alone, but upon one which, in the nature of things, must grow. In short, I am raising this matter in the hope that I shall be able to get him to agree that a far greater degree of urgency should be injected into the consideration of this important matter.

3.8 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. J. B. Godber)

I should like to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Mr. Braine) for raising this subject; and, if I may say so, for the thoughtful and very constructive way in which he has dealt with it. I certainly realise that it is a matter that is causing a good deal of concern, particularly in south-east Essex, but in other parts of the country as well.

My hon. Friend rather took my breath away in his opening phrases by the facility with which he quoted Horace in support of his argument. In the short time that has been available to me, I have not been able to find a suitable quotation from Horace with which to reply but, if Virgil will suffice him, I would say: Pater ipse colendi haud facilem esse viam voluit, primusque per artem movit agros. I know that neither he nor the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) will need any translation of that, but for the benefit of others, perhaps I may translate it—

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

Is not that rather a reflection on Mr. Speaker?

Mr. Godber

Mr. Speaker, of course, must be included in those who do not need a translation, which would be: The Great Father himself willed that the path of husbandry should not be smooth, and he first made art awaken the fields. My hon. Friend has raised a number of points with which I should like to deal as far as I can. There is no doubt that chemical sprays have played a considerable part in the increased yield being obtained by our farmers. Indeed, they are becoming a more and more important tool in their hands and, provided they are properly handled and applied, do not present a major hazard.

Chemical manufacturers, farmers and spraying contractors are generally play- ing their part in a responsible manner. The chemical industry co-operates fully with my Ministry in a voluntary scheme that enables the Advisory Committee on Poisonous Substances used in Agriculture to consider, and make recommendations about, any new toxic chemical or, indeed, the new use of an old one. The recommendations are about the safe use of the chemicals and cover the men who do the spraying, the people who eat the treated crop, and any wild life that may be affected. I will come back later to the question of wild life which was raised by my hon. Friend. In spite of the work of this Committee, however, some aspects of the use of toxic sprays in agriculture remain controversial.

The main difficulties relate to the spray drift problem raised by my hon. Friend, and are most frequently caused by the drift of hormone weed killers. The use of these sprays is growing, and in areas of mixed agriculture and horticulture damage is liable to occur from the careless use of sprays. Such damage can be serious—I quite agree with my hon. Friend—particularly in view of the high value of many horticultural crops. I think that the problem is probably greater in Essex than in any other area, although, as my hon. Friend has said, it certainly is not confined to that county alone.

I agree that the most important steps to improve the position are through research, education and advice. The Ministry has done all it can to bring home the dangers to those who engage in spraying, and it is being backed up by the National Farmers' Union and bodies like the Weed Control Council, on which are represented farmers, contractors, manufacturers and the National Agricultural Advisory Service. An advisory leaflet has been prepared and has been sent to individual farmers in the areas where damage is most likely to occur. It is a helpful leaflet, and if farmers will study it and follow the recommendations I am sure that it will help to minimise these cases.

The problem has also been examined by the Agricultural Research Council which is intensifying its work on the subject. A grant has been made to the University of Nottingham for the study of cases of spray drift damage which may point to remedial measures. The report may lead to the use of sensitive species as indicator plants to show the presence of spray drift and possibly to trace back from the damaged crop the source of the spray. That point arises particularly in connection with some of the problems to which my hon. Friend referred.

My hon. Friend will be glad to know also that the National Institute of Agricultural Engineering is investigating the behaviour of spray after it is discharged. The Institute is also working on the design of spraying machines, particularly on nozzle designs and spray pressures, which are points of very great importance as my hon. Friend has made clear, to try to amend them to reduce spray drift, and on methods of controlling droplet size. That is a very important matter and I hope that these studies will lead to safer methods of spraying.

My hon. Friend has spoken about the question of compensation. Where the source of the damage is known, the grower affected can claim against the person responsible for the spraying; but I agree that occasionally the source of the damage cannot be identified. This creates formidable difficulties to the growers concerned, although the number of cases that have come to our knowledge is certainly not large.

My hon. Friend quoted a ratio of about one in four cases occurring this year which he thought might not be capable of being traced. But the figure that has been given to us at the Ministry is far nearer one in ten. So there is a considerable divergence of opinion. Even so, I do not dispute that this is an important matter.

Mr. Braine

There is an apparent discrepancy. When I referred to a ratio of one in four I was referring solely to tomatoes and cucumbers. The ratio of one in ten relates to the whole field of horticultural production.

Mr. Godber

I realise that tomatoes and cucumbers are peculiarly suspectible and that there is a special problem there. On the other hand, particularly at this time of the year, they are grown in glasshouses, and I should have thought it was possible, if there were some co-operation in the locality, for the owners of glasshouses to be careful with their ventilation on days when spraying takes place. If only they could receive notification from those proposing to use sprays, a great deal of the damage in glasshouses could be obviated. I say that with some little knowledge of the crop.

A great deal of thought has been put into this whole question, both by the leaders of the industry and by ourselves. In fact, the Ministry have held a good number of discussions with the N.F.U. on the problem. Several solutions have been put forward, but so far none of them appears to be practicable for all the parties concerned. The idea of a levy scheme upon either the manufacturers' sales or upon farmers using the sprays, which my hon. Friend mentioned, is one of these. We discussed this suggestion with both the manufacturers and the N.F.U., but I am told that representatives of both these bodies, after discussion, did not consider the idea practicable.

It was not a question of the Ministry turning it down, and I can assure my hon. Friend that that is so. It may be, of course, that farmers may have been willing to agree to a levy on manufacturers and that manufacturers would have agreed to a levy on the farmers, but neither, as I understand it, was willing to join together in some agreed scheme.

My hon. Friend spoke about the respective merits of voluntary action by the industry and some form of compulsion or pressure brought about by the Government. In our studies of the problem, we have so far always come to the conclusion that this matter is best controlled through voluntary action by the parties concerned. I am not quite so pessimistic about the value of insurance as I think my hon. Friend is, although I agree with him that it would not provide the answer in every case. I have also learned something about the rates of insurance, and while they are substantial, they are not, I would think, prohibitive, particularly where valuable crops are concerned.

I think the answer might well lie along the lines of the industry itself in some way forming a fund from which claims for spray drift damage could be met. It is an extremely tricky problem, and my right hon. Friend certainly appreciates the difficulties and the fact that we have not yet reached a solution. He has, therefore, recently asked my noble Friend Lord Waldegrave to make a special study of the whole of this problem.

My hon. Friend also raised some other problems arising out of recent reports of losses of bees through spraying toxic chemicals. My Ministry's chief beekeeping advisory officer has been investigating these reports and has confirmed local but serious losses to individual beekeepers. I will not confirm or deny the figure of 1 million which my hon. Friend mentioned, because, as he says, it is difficult to say, but I do agree that there have been serious losses in some localities.

My Department, on receiving this information, immediately called a meeting between the spraying contractors most immediately concerned, the Association of British Manufacturers of Agricultural Chemicals and scientific officers of the Ministry. It was confirmed that the main cause of these losses was spraying or dusting of crops in flower, chiefly field beans and mustard. Weather conditions this summer have caused a great increase in insect pests, particularly of the aphis, of which there are enormous numbers, and consequently in crop protection measures. Some farmers have little choice of when to spray, particularly as the crops came to flower so quickly in the recent warm weather, and could only save their crops by spraying or dusting while they were in flower.

An announcement was made after the meeting pointing out that further spraying and dusting of crops in flower would kill many more bees and pollinating insects, which may well reduce yields. Co-operation between farmers, spraying contractors and bee-keepers was urged, and fanners were asked to examine crops not in flower at once so that they could arrange any necessary spraying or dusting to be carried out either before or after the flowering period. Advice was also given that beekeepers should be warned of spraying operations to enable them to take any necessary precautions. The general question of the effect of toxic sprays on bees and beneficial insects generally is being considered by my Ministry, and a limited field trial is being carried out this year.

My hon. Friend also asked about the effect of toxic chemical sprays on birds and other wild life. Recommendations are already made by the Advisory Com- mittee on Poisonous Substances about protection of wild life from certain chemicals used for spraying crops and manufacturers include these recommendations in their instructions for the use of these products.

The Nature Conservancy is actively reviewing this problem in consultation with the Ministry and other organisations concerned. They would be grateful for the facts of instances where it is believed that the use of toxic chemicals has affected wild life. They are not aware of any up-to-date evidence from this country to prove that such chemicals are causing any important or widespread reduction in bird or mammal populations.

My hon. Friend referred specifically to an advertisement by Shell in The Farmer and Stock-Breeder, a year or two ago. My attention was called to that advertisement some time ago. I understand that the Shell people sent a letter to that journal after the advertisement appeared, explaining that they were not saying in their advertisement that this substance killed pigeons. What they said was that The presence of Dieldrex 15 appears to make crops distasteful to pigeons and they avoid feeding on treated crops, but we are satisfied from reports and observations that no pigeons or other birds have been injured as the result of these applications. That correction was sent following the publication of the advertisement. As far as I know, there are no other reports of pigeons or other birds having been killed by that preparation. The Protection of Birds Act is, in any case, a matter for my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and any interpretation of it is a matter for the Courts. I can, however, point out that the 1954 Act was aimed at persons acting with malicious intent. Section 1 uses the word "wilfully" and Section 4 (2) (d) provides that it shall be a good defence if The Act was the incidental result of a lawful operation. That, I believe, deals with the point raised by my hon. Friend.

I have tried to deal factually as far as I could with the various points which my hon. Friend has raised—

Mr. Braine

My hon. Friend says that he has dealt with the point I raised. I am not sure that he has. If there are substances which manufacturers know to be likely to affect pigeons or any other kind of pest in the field, whether it is likely to affect them by driving them away from the crop or poisoning or killing them, surely there is a case for the Ministry to investigate, as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds requests, exactly how effective the substances are for this purpose. If they are effective again pigeons, they will be effective against other birds. All I am asking is that the facts should be ascertained. I hope that my hon. Friend will not leave the matter there but will give an assurance that an attempt will be made to establish the facts.

Mr. Godber

My hon. Friend's main point, I thought, was that birds could or would be killed. I have tried to explain that from my information that is not the case. If it were the case, it might well be that the 1954 Act could be invoked. As I have said, however, it is not for me to interpret that Act.

As regards driving birds away from one crop to another, that is not in itself sufficient evidence to justify special inquiry by my Ministry. I am, however, quite prepared to look at any evidence which comes forward. If a case can be made to justify any particular inquiry, I am certainly not averse to it. At the moment, however, I have no such evidence before me, and although I will, of course, study what my hon. Friend has said, I do not think he has given this evidence.

All these are matters which we want to keep under constant review to see whether we can find any way of helping those who have been hard hit by the use of these substances. We want to see that the use of these substances, where it is beneficial to agriculture generally, shall continue but that any ill-effects which could come from it should be safeguarded against so that those who suffer can have some form of redress. My hon. Friend said that it was unjust to one section of farmers that they should have to bear the burden of something which was helping another section, and that surely is the key to this matter. This is an internal matter within the industry itself. We shall be glad to do anything to help, but it calls for cooperation within the industry. With that co-operation we shall do everything we can to assist. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this subject, which I agree is important. I am sure that he will feel that we shall continue to give the best help we can in this matter.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-five minutes past Three o'clock.