HC Deb 07 December 1961 vol 650 cc1519-21
20. Mr. Farr

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will initiate an inquiry into the effect upon agriculture, public health and the ecology of the country of all chemicals used in agriculture.

Mr. Soames

The Research Study Group on Toxic Chemicals in Agriculture and Food Storage has been conducting an inquiry of this kind over the last eighteen months and its Report was published two days ago. As I said at the time in reply to a Question by my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior), the Government accept the Group's conclusions that the protective measures now in force are generally successful, but that more fundamental and applied research is needed into various problems in this field.

Mr. Farr

Whilst thanking my right hon. Friend for that reply, may I ask if he is aware that on 28th June this year the Sixth Report of the Estimates Committee recommended that such an inquiry ought to be established as soon as possible and that there is a great deal of concern in the country generally about the long-term effects of the build-up of chemicals in our soil?

Mr. Soames

I shall comment on two points. First, we have gone a long way since June in this matter. Secondly, I shall be sending a reply on the Report of the Estimates Committee in the course of the next week.

Mr. Bullard

Will my right hon. Friend press on with the research which was recommended in the Report of the Study Group? Will he also bear in mind that the Report of the Study Group seems to indicate that on the whole the danger to animal life of chemicals already used in agriculture has tended to be rather exaggerated? Will he be careful not to put any undue brake on the technical advance in agriculture which has accompanied the use of these sprays?

Mr. Soames

This Report was most valuable. It stressed how important these chemicals were to agriculture and also stated that generally our arrangements were satisfactory, but there were certain fields in which there were gaps both in fundamental and applied research. We intend to press on with this.

Mr. P. Noel-Baker

Is the Report available in the Vote Office?

Mr. Soames

Copies of the Report have been placed in the Library.

21. Mr. Farr

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what steps he is taking to revise the notification scheme regarding chemicals used in agriculture.

Mr. Soames

This was one of the points raised by the Select Committee on Estimates in its Sixth Report. My reply to this will be sent to the Select Committee early next week. I am sure that my hon. Friend will understand that I do not wish to anticipate that reply.

25. Sir J. Maitland

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what further action he will take to reduce the number of casualties to wild life due to the use of deleterious chemicals; and what progress has been made in producing chemicals of equal agricultural efficacy which have no lethal effects.

Mr. Soames

The Research Study Group has reported that very few of the many chemicals introduced into the United Kingdom since the war have been shown to have adverse effects on wild birds and mammals. Cereal seed dressings containing aldrin, dieldrin and heptachlor have caused casualties in serious numbers and I hope that the restrictions on their use, which I announced in the House on 3rd July, will prevent this in the future. My Department will, however, intensify its survey of wild life casualties, as recommended by the Research Study Group, and consider after next season, with the interests concerned, whether any further action is necessary.

The development of new agricultural chemicals is undertaken by the manufacturing industry, who are fully conscious of the need for equally efficient but less toxic chemicals.

Sir J. Maitland

Is my right hon. Friend aware that we are beginning to get bird casualties again at this early period? Is he also aware that there is now evidence to show that where certain chemicals were not used there were no casualties?

Mr. Soames

Yes, Sir. There is no doubt that these chemicals have a serious effect on wild life. Arrangements have been made as from 1st January to ensure that they will not be used in the spring, and only in the autumn in order to combat a particular form of pest which attacks wheat. These arrangements will come into effect this coming spring. Our experience in the past has shown that although there are certain casualties to wild life in the autumn they are not serious in numbers nor anything like what happened when the chemicals were used in the spring. But they will not be used this spring.

Sir G. Nicholson

My right hon. Friend will be aware that the Select Committee on Estimates took a serious view on this matter. May we assume that his answers indicate that he and his Department intend to assume a greater measure of responsibility for the protection of wild life? May we also assume, while appreciating the great difficulties that face him, that the approach of his Department to this matter, which was somewhat leisurely originally, will now be one of considerable urgency?

Mr. Soames

We have been very much helped, as my hon. Friend knows, by the Sanders Report which, as I have said, we intend to implement.

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