HC Deb 11 July 1977 vol 935 cc161-89
Mr. Speaker

Before I call the Minister I must remind the House that the Commission documents deal primarily with chemical substances, and I hope that hon. Members will stay within the rules of order. The documents exclude medicinal products, radioactive materials and explosives. They do not deal with precautionary procedures for dangerous substances, nor with safety at work, other than handling precautions, nor with broad questions of environmental pollution.

10.0 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Gavin Strang)

I beg to move, That this House takes note of Commission Documents Nos. R/89/75, R/1643/75, R/2026/76, R/2027/76 and R/2203/76 on Pesticides, Plant Protection and Packaging and Labelling. I am sure, Mr. Speaker, that your advice at the outset of the debate will be helpful for the purposes of discussion.

The Government welcome the decision of the Scrutiny Committee to recommend these documents for debate in view of the interest and concern both in the House and in the country generally about the safeguards necessary to ensure that chemicals vital for plant protection and for various industrial purposes can be marketed and used safely. I would also like to thank the Committee for its careful study of this fairly technical subject and for drawing to the attention of the House a number of matters of importance in the four proposals.

May I start with the three pesticides proposals, since this is my own Departmental territory. These three draft directives aim to harmonise in various ways arrangements within the Community for labelling, packaging and marketing. The Government support the basic objectives of these measures, which correspond closely with the policy adopted by successive Administrations for many years past and implemented through the non-statutory Pesticides Safety Precautions Scheme under the auspices of the expert and independent Advisory Committee on Pesticides. The Government have long regarded comprehensive labelling and secure packaging as essential for the safeguarding of human and animal health and the wider environment, and have consistently pursued a policy of withdrawing the more persistent pesticides from the market when satisfactory alternatives become available. Beyond safety considerations, we welcome the prospect of freer trade within the Community which should flow from some measure of harmonisation of these arrangements.

Turning now to the individual proposals, Document R/89/75 would introduce Community requirements for toxicity classification, packaging and labelling of pesticides for the purpose of avoiding risk to human and animal health. The main feature would be the introduction of symbols which, while slightly different from the symbols widely used in transport and which I would have preferred to see in the directives, clearly indicate the hazards of the more dangerous pesticides. Power to introduce symbols of this sort already exists in the United Kingdom under the Farm and Garden Chemicals Act 1967, which owes its place on the statute book to the efforts of my hon. Friend the Member for Wood Green (Mrs. Butler). The Regulations made under that Act did not provide for symbols because it did not seem sensible to apply symbols until there was agreement on a Community-wide system. As my hon. Friend said when the regulations were debated, they have very little meaning without the symbols, and we welcome the Community initiative here. We also welcome the move which the draft directive represents towards the standardisation of label phrases, which we hope in due time will go wider than the Community itself.

One element in the Commission proposal is of concern to us, and that is the need to retain some flexibility in the choice of cautionary phrases so that the present high standard of labelling in the United Kingdom is not threatened. For us, good labelling is the key to pesticides safety.

Turning now to Document R/2026/76, hon. Members will be aware that this provides a system whereby pesticides bearing the E-mark of Community approval, given on the basis of defined safety and efficacy tests, would be guaranteed free circulation throughout the Common Market. This system would work in parallel with existing national schemes, though the Commission has complete harmonisation as an ultimate aim.

As I have already said, the Government welcome the prospect of freer trade in pesticides, but we have several reservations on the details of the scheme in its present form. Some of these points are noted in the Scrutiny Committee's report. For example, we recognise the need to provide safeguards for the confidentiality of information provided by manufacturers in applying for the E-mark and to afford some right of appeal against its withdrawal.

Furthermore, some drafting amendments will be needed to iron out discrepancies between this directive and Document R/89/75, though I would comment here that some of the apparent anomalies are due to the fact that the scope of the two directives differs slightly. Finally, we share the Scrutiny Committee's view that the list of chemicals for the E-mark needs to be comprehensive and up to date. Many of our reservations are shared by our partners, and we expect to reach agreement in due course on a workable basis for implementing this system.

The third pesticide proposal, Document R/2027/76, would provide for the banning of certain persistent pesticides in the organochlorine and mercurial groups, though derogations would allow continued use of particular compounds on particular crops. In the United Kingdom the consistent policy of successive Administrations has been progressively to reduce the use of persistent pesticides by withdrawing them from the market as and when effective alternatives become available. That policy stems from the considered scientific judgment of the Government's Advisory Committee.

In the 1960s the Committee twice reviewed the organochlorine group of pesticides. The conclusion of the second review in 1969, which was accepted by the Government of the day, was that, although certain organochlorine compounds were present in the environment, there was no evidence that this was having adverse effects on man. Nevertheless, the Committee regarded their presence, even at low concentrations, as undesirable. It therefore called for all remaining uses of these compounds to be kept under review through the machinery of the Pesticides Safety Precautions Scheme and recommended that less persistent pesticides should be substituted wherever —and as soon as—possible.

In principle, therefore, the Commission's draft directive follows a policy practised in the United Kingdom for many years. Essentially our approach is that chemical accumulations of this kind should be reduced and, where practicable, avoided altogether, even though they may not present any health risk. However, there are several features of the Commission's current draft where we have reservations. Thus, the "derogations" list of permitted uses of these compounds is not, in our view, adequate, nor do we subscribe to the proposal that some of these derogations should have prescribed time limits.

I am sure hon. Members would agree that we should not lightly take any steps which would have an adverse effect on our agricultural and horticultural production by removing prematurely necessary safeguards against pests. Further, while we can look to research establishments to come up with effective substitutes, it would be unrealistic to predetermine the time scale within which they will do so. I might add that other member countries have parallel reservations on the adequacy of the derogations list and share our misgivings about time limits.

Another area of concern is that the present draft would allow further bans to be imposed by a majority voting procedure. Whatever the merits of majority voting, hon. Members may agree that it would not seem an appropriate method for deciding on measures which may affect Member States quite differently depending on different farming systems or pests to which differing crops may be exposed.

A final point of concern to the Government arises in relation not to the text of the proposal but rather to the method by which it is to be implemented. As hon. Members know, our present effective and workable arrangements for the control of pesticides are based on a non-statutory approach—and this contrasts with legislative controls to be found in most other member States. The success of our approach has recently been acknowledged in another place and earlier in the Nature Conservancy Council's recent publication "Nature Conservation and Agriculture". The Treaty of Rome leaves to the discretion of individual member States the "form and methods" for the implementation of directives. I am sure that hon. Members will be glad to know that the Government see the current safety scheme as a natural vehicle for operating our safeguards within a European regime which would flow from agreed proposals under this draft directive.

I turn now from pesticides to Document R/2023/76, which is a proposal for the sixth modification to a directive first adopted in 1967, on the classification, packaging and labelling of dangerous substances. With only minor exceptions, the proposals on labelling consolidate earlier amendments to the original 1967 directive and are already in force. The major purpose of the labelling provision is to require suppliers of some 800 dangerous chemicals to attach labels to their products warning workpeople of the hazards involved in their use. The label will carry one or more danger symbols and a number of phrases warning of the principal risks and giving advice on suitable safety precautions. These labels are a useful measure of protection for workpeople and, because they are identical except for language throughout the Community, make it easier for exporters to market their products within the Community. For these reasons the United Kingdom welcomed this directive on our accession to the Community. The Health and Safety Commission published a consultative document a year ago in the form of draft regulations aimed at implementing the directive as currently amended. After wide consultations these have been re-drafted and were submitted a month ago to my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Employment and for Prices and Consumer Protection as legislative proposals in the form of a draft statutory instrument.

With the exception of a few points of detail, the labelling provisions of this amending directive are identical with provisions already in force and about to be implemented within the United Kingdom and, therefore, have my full support.

More significantly, however, the sixth amendment introduces a number of new concepts. The first of these is embodied in proposals for a notification scheme which would require manufacturers to carry out a series of tests before marketing to indentify hazards to man and the environment and to send the results to a "competent authority" in the member State. The information to be provided would include the identity of the substance, its physical and chemical properties, the results of toxicological and eco-toxicological studies and data on utilisation, including proposed use and estimated production.

The national authority would consider the dossier supplied and examine the adequacy of the proposals put forward for safe use. At the same time, it would be required to pass to the Commission a copy of the notification dossier with any relevant comments.

The Commission would then pass extracts of the information to other member States and maintain a catologue of all substances notified. The Commission, through the medium of a technical progress committee, would be able to modify the details of the information required from notifiers.

Some of that information would be of considerable value to potential competitors, and the United Kingdom view is that these proposals should be approached with caution.

The present draft would allow controls to be imposed on a substance by a majority voting procedure, and hon. Members may again agree that we should view with caution this extension of powers.

To sum up, I hope I have made it clear that the Government are in sympathy with the general aims of all four of the Commission's proposals. We shall be seeking changes of detail where United Kingdom interests need to be protected or where changes are needed to secure that new arrangements are workable. With our record on the safe use of chemicals and of concern for the environment, I believe that we have much to offer our partners in developing these initiatives. On this basis, I commend the proposals to the House.

10.13 p.m.

Mr. Michael Jopling (Westmorland)

We are grateful to the Parliamentary Secretary for the detailed explanation that he has given of the import of these documents and of the Government's attitude to them. At first sight, these documents may have appeared to be fairly mundane. Having read the submissions made by outside interests, I am sure that the Scrutiny Committee has done right in recommending that the House should consider them in greater detail.

Before making individual points, I must declare my interest as a farmer who buys and uses many of these preparations.

The Opposition generally welcome these proposals. It is becoming increasingly recognised throughout the country just how dangerous these substances can be if used indiscriminately or abused. One reads of far too many accidents and hears far too many stories about how dangerous chemicals, such as these, are stored in silly places and ways. Over the years one has heard of the tragedies caused; for example, by chemicals being kept after use in mineral water bottles. One has heard of the death of children after some of these chemicals, many of which have a dark brown hue and, therefore, a similarity to Coca-Cola, being kept in Coca-Cola bottles. It is not surprising that children have been known to drink that substance with dire and fatal effect.

These substances are being increasingly used on farms. They are found around the countryside. I was told recently that on arable farms the cost of spraying corn crops is as high as £15 an acre. Recently we have seen a striking growth in the use of aerial spraying. That puts a new dimension on the danger of these products.

I have read submissions made by outside interests on the proposed directives. There is general support for the way in which we have operated safeguards over the use of such substances. As the Minister of State said, we have the Pesticides Safety Precautions Scheme and the Agriculture Chemical Approval Scheme. I hope that in general we need not stray too far from the way in which these schemes have worked. I was interested to see that in one of the submissions the National Farmers Union said: The EEC legislation should allow the very satisfactory system in operation in this country to continue. I hope that whatever regulations are finally brought in within the Community will go as far as the present schemes which have worked in the United Kingdom. Otherwise, there will be dangers from the proposal. However, I hope that the regulations do not go much further, because that would lead to excessive and unnecessary bureaucracy.

If the proposals were to go further—and I recognise that in some cases they should and that that would be welcome —I hope that they will still be able to be operated in a way similar to, if not the same as, that in the Pesticides Safety Precautions Scheme, which might be modified to embrace the new proposals.

Having read the Minister's explanatory memorandum on the documents I find that there seem to be few changes in the way that the Pesticides Safety Precautions Scheme operates. The proposed directives are acceptable to the Opposition. The present position was summed up in the submission by the British Agrochemicals Association in 1975 when it talked of the enviable safety record of the United Kingdom.

There are a number of points which have to be dealt with. There is some confusion about what is included in the documents. The explanatory memorandum of Document R/89/75 is not clear about the, scope of the document as it affects non-agricultural products, particularly wood preservatives. When one reads Article 2 of that document one finds it difficult to define what are pesticides. Article 2(b) refers to substances which are designed to render harmless or to destroy or to give protection against vermin or animal or insect pests not classed as plant pests. This matter caused me some confusion when I read it. I should have thought that under the heading of paragraph 6 would have been included some products that are widely used in agriculture, particularly with regard to animal welfare. I am thinking of chemicals that are used to control such pests as the warble fly and liver fluke, and chemicals that are used in sheep dips. There is here a very difficult margin of definition, to which I should like the Parliamentary Secretary to refer.

At the beginning of the debate, Mr. Speaker, you told us that these documents do not cover medicines. However, I am not sure whether veterinary products are classified as medicines or whether they come within the scope of these regulations. It would be helpful if the Minister would say something about what the definitions really mean. I am not sure where a medicine becomes a veterinary product and I am not sure what sheep dip chemicals or chemicals to control warble fly or liver fluke might be. I should be grateful to hear something about that.

Mr. W. E. Garrett (Wallsend)

The hon. Gentleman has declared and admitted an interest in warble fly. Surely he must know its root cause in the hides. He must also know, as I do, that there are certain medicines that fall on the fringe between what is good for the human being and what is good for the animal. Would he be prepared to state the Conservative Party's attitude on that matter?

Mr Jopling

I am not quite sure what the hon. Gentleman means when he asks me to declare my party's attitude. All that I can say is that if the substances do good to animal and human health, as opposed to sin, we are in favour of them.

Mr. Garrett

We are considering EEC documents and the hon. Member is a very fervent advocate of EEC policies. Perhaps he would explain his party's attitude, and, indeed, the EEC's attitude on the matter.

Mr. Jopling

That is just what I am trying to do. I am trying to get the Minister, who presumably has been involved in talks, or his officials have been so involved, with the Community over these matters to tell us what is meant in these borderline cases between the substances about which we are talking and the pesticides when there is a difficulty at the margin as to whether they are medicines, veterinary products or pesticides. I do not really understand it. I am sure that the hon. Member for Wall-send (Mr. Garrett) has been carefully listening, but I was trying to ascertain from the Minister what exactly is the case where there are borderline issues. But perhaps I have not understood the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Garrett

I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister, who is a very intelligent fellow, would be very interested to hear the hon. Gentleman's detailed views, as an expert on agriculture, on the two subjects that he has mentioned.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I know that the hon. Gentleman is an intelligent fellow, but, at the same time, I hope now that he will be allowed to continue.

Mr. Jopling

I had better have a word with the hon. Member for Wallsend later.

I should like now to deal with the particular points that the Select Committee felt merited the attention of the House. Firstly, the Select Committee suggested that in the submissions it had received there appeared to be discrepancies over warnings given on labels. The Consumers Association has drawn attention to this and has questioned the different methods of determining toxicity. It is very important that we know what we are talking about when we assess the level of toxicity of these substances. There are three methods proposed in Annexes I, II, and III as ways of determining toxicity. The Consumers Association is right to say that this is a source of confusion. It would be helpful if the Minister could say a little more about this in his reply.

The next point to which the Select Committee drew our attention was the need for derogations for minor uses of substances banned under Document R/2027/76, for which no economical alternative exists. On all sides we must welcome steps to ban the use of certain substances which create serious risks to man. In the United Kingdom over the years we have not flinched from doing this. I can speak with feeling about this because there is still a degree of infuriation in my constituency that a previous Government, I think a Conservative Government, in the early 1960s banned two substances, aldrin and dieldrin, the demise of which are still mourned by my constituents. It must be right to ban those substances.

The explanatory memorandum of Document R/2027/76 talks of derogations given for exemptions for the export of these substances to third countries. This causes me serious concern. Is this wise? If there are substances which we feel it unsafe to use in this country and throughout the rest of the Community, ought we to allow them to go to unsuspecting third countries? I find this an astonishing attitude and one which could easily rebound upon us. There must be a possibility, if we allow these substances to be exported, that we shall find the wretched things coming back as residues in food that is imported into the Community.

The British Agrochemicals Association and the NFU speak of wanting further derogations. The BAA speaks of: few organochlorines and organomercury products being in use here and says that they are mainly used for cereal seed. It makes a point about a substance called calomel, which is useful against club root in brassicas. On all these matters we have to be guided by experts. I hope that the Government will veer on the side of safety. I hope that derogations will not be given simply because they might be helpful in the long term, because that attitude is likely to cause us trouble eventually.

The third point to which the Select Committee referred concerned the omission from the list in R/2026/76 of permitted substances which are widely used outside Europe. I welcome what the Minister said to the effect that these lists must be kept up to date. I am sure that that is the right attitude. The BAA has rightly said that it would be bureaucratic nonsense to say that certain substances should be left out of the list because they can always be introduced later.

The fourth matter to which the Select Committee referred was the need for a right of appeal where member States individually withdrew the E-mark from a product. I am glad to hear that the Government recognise that case. I will not go into the arguments since the Government are seized of them. Unless there is a right of appeal I can envisage some States within the Community using this loophole to trump up a case on purely spurious grounds for the purpose of protecting their own agrochemical industries. I turn now to the fifth matter to which the Select Committee referred. We have a conflict here with regard to how much confidential information ought to be given to the various national authorities or Community authorities for the purpose of acquiring an E-mark. The National Union of Agricultural and Allied Workers says that the fullest possible scientific documentation should be submitted". But, surely, in this case what is needed is that no more should be supplied than is necessary. I believe that our agrochemical industry has a great advantage and lead in European terms, and, while suppliers should be made to give as much information as is necessary to protect human welfare and the environment, I hope that they will not be made to give more than necessary, because that would be a commercial absurdity. I am glad to know that the Minister accepts that point, too.

The Select Committee asked us to consider also the question of responsibility for collecting and disposing of empty containers. This was the subject of a proposal by the National Union of Agricultural and Allied Workers, and I welcome the point which it made. This is a serious problem. On my own farm we have the greatest difficulty in knowing how to deal with these containers. In fact, they are all locked in one room and are kept there, but the pile of tins becomes bigger and bigger every year and one wonders what on earth to do with them.

The union has proposed that collection should be the responsibility of suppliers, but I do not believe that to be practical. I believe that the responsibility has to lie with the users, because suppliers come and go and it is difficult to pin a certain tin or container down to one supplier. It is far better to make the buyer, the farmer, responsible in some way. But over the years we shall have to give a good deal more thought to how to deal with these things.

The Minister pointed out that Document R/2203/76 covers a matter which is the responsibility of the Department of Employment. I, too, welcome the proposed directive on dangerous substances. In particular, it proposes the control of new substances, and that must be right. Mankind suffers from the effects of some substances which are in common use today but which, if.: here had been an arrangement of this sort years ago, would never have been allowed such wide use as we now find.

Over the years—I take this one example—I have been extremely interested in the use of a group of chemicals, the polychlorinated byphenyls and the polybrominated biphenyls, which have caused serious trouble in the United States as a result of getting mixed up wrongly with feeding stuffs and creating major problems for both cattle and human beings. It was the polychlorinated biphenyls which caused such a furore in the State of New York and over the past two years, I believe, caused a ban on all fish being taken from the Hudson River in New York. I can only say that it was a sad day when these chemicals came into everyday use.

I refer now to what can only be called a piece of utter bureaucratic nonsense. It has been brought to our attention by the National Farmers Union. I refer to Document R/89/75, Article 5, with regard to packaging. In paragraph (a) of Article 5 we read: The packagings must be so constructed and sealed that their contents cannot escape. In paragraph (c) we are told that packages and closures must be sufficiently strong and solid throughout to ensure that they cannot come apart. If we had packaging of this quality, it would be totally academic what was inside it, because it would be impossible to open it even with a tin-opener. That sort of drafting needs attention.

We welcome these proposals. They help to protect the environment for human, animal and plant life and give great opportunities to the British agrochemical industry. The explanatory memorandum to Document 2026 says: The E-mark system could be expected to improve export opportunities for the United Kingdom manufacturers of pesticides. That is an example, if one is needed, of how helpful the Community can be to British interests. Generally, these proposals are of great assistance to us, giving huge opportunities to our agrochemical industry, which is much more advanced than most, through this "seal of good housekeeping" to expand its business.

Those hon. Members who attend EEC debates to make the same speeches as they have been making for four or five years are almost totally absent tonight. The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr Powell) is the only familiar face. I wonder where all the others are.

Mr. W. E. Garrett

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will include me in that list.

Mr. Jopling

No, because the hon. Gentleman is not one of those who use these occasions regularly to pour scorn and damnation on the Community. His speeches are much more objective. I paid him a compliment by not including him.

These are helpful and constructive proposals. I hope that they will soon be put into effect. Some amendments are needed, and I hope that the Minister will do his best to effect them.

10.38 p.m.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)

I hope not to disappoint the hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling) too much when I disclose that I shall reserve for other occasions what is now a work of supererogation—pouring scorn on the Community. One feels sorry for it these days rather than angry. I wish simply to raise a technical, though not unimportant, legal point. It is the implementation of these proposed directives under the law of the United Kingdom.

Para. 5 of the explanatory memorandum to Document R/2026 says: The E-mark could be developed within the scope of the two voluntary schemes and no United Kingdom legislation, either principal or subordinate, would be required. At first sight, that is surprising. Although through those voluntary schemes we may be complying with the requirements of the proposed directive, that fact in itself would not mean that we were complying with Community law unless the directive were embodied in our law—or, at any rate, so it appears at first sight.

Similarly, the explanatory memorandum to Document R/2027 says: The controls equivalent to those envisaged are already secured administratively through the PSPS", and it only adds: If any supplementary provision proved necessary that could be done by regulations under the 1974 Act. Again, it seems that whether or not we are complying with the controls required by the new Community law we should have to embody those requirements in our law in order to meet the new directives that will eventually emerge.

Finally, my third example relates to Document R/2203. Paragraph 9 of the explanatory memorandum says: There are existing UK statutory requirements for the notification and clearance", although the pesticides are cleared under the non-statutory scheme. That paragraph represents what I would have supposed would be the intended situation when these directives are in force.

Perhaps, therefore, the Minister will clear up the legal position, for I would have thought that, while we would of course continue to maintain these schemes, there was an obligation upon us to provide them with a legal framework and background. That is the essence of the law of the Community whether one likes it or not.

Paragraph 9 of R/2203 represents what I would have thought ought to be the corresponding situation under the other two regulations when they arc eventually in force.

10.41 p.m.

Mrs. Joyce Butler (Wood Green)

I wish to say only a few words on Document R/89. I am very grateful to my hon. Friend the Minister for his reference to the part I played in the passage of the Farm and Garden Chemicals Act. On the same day as that Bill got through all its stages in the House of Commons a Protection of Birds Bill was successful, and I remarked then that it was a great day for the birds. The Farm and Garden Chemicals Act was in large measure inspired by the public concern about the widespread deaths of birds and other wild life due to eating poisoned seed dressings. That reminds us of the importance of the directives we are discussing.

As my hon. Friend said, I was very disappointed that it was not possible in the Farm and Garden Chemicals Act to find a warning mark or symbol or colour to denote the toxicity of certain chemicals, because of the discussions that were then proceeding internationally. I there- fore greatly welcome the fact that we are now being directed to introduce warning symbols.

Another factor which has supervened since the Farm and Garden Chemicals Act came into being is the great development of home gardening and allotmenteering—the amateur production of food. This has increased considerably, especially in the past two or three years. Although farmers may be well aware of the dangers of toxic pesticides and chemicals, many gardeners coming new to growing their own crops may not be so well aware. It is therefore important for there to be a symbol that they can easily recognise. It is particularly important because there are great dangers if pesticides and other chemicals are wrongly used that they will leave in food residues that can be very dangerous.

Therefore, at this time it is more important than ever that we should be adding to the armoury we already have in own own legislation this kind of symbol, which is easily recognised by people coming new to the use of chemicals. I am therefore very glad that this is to be done, although I share my hon. Friend's concern that we were not able to devise these symbols ourselves and perhaps get something rather more appropriate. If I am right in thinking that the symbols will include a death's head and crossbones to indicate toxicity, that is obviously clear and easy to understand. However, I am not sure that a St. Andrew's Cross will convey to the public the potential harmful effects of a chemical or its irritant capacity.

The symbols may leave much to be desired, but they will be valuable additions. I hope that when we implement these parts of the directive we shall give them wide publicity. If the public do not know about the symbols, they will be valueless. I doubt whether more than a few hundred people outside the Chamber have any idea what the symbols mean. There will have to be a lot of education if the symbols are to be as effective as they should be. I welcome the directives generally and these parts of R/89 in particular.

10.46 p.m.

Mr. Peter Mills (Devon, West)

I declare my interests as a farmer who uses chemicals and as a member of the Select Committee on European Legislation. We are discussing important matters. I welcome the constructive speeches that we have heard. They have been in contrast to speeches on other EEC matters.

I wonder whether the House realises the tremendous growth in the use of chemicals and pesticides in agriculture. When I started in farming some years ago we used simple mixtures of copper sulphate and sulphur itself. I am surprised that we managed with so few pesticides and chemicals.

My hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling) was right to draw attention to the cost per acre and the cost of treatment of animals in the use of chemicals and pesticides, but without them we could not get the yields that we now achieve from our cereals and we could not get the weed control, the live-weight gains in cattle, or the milk that we get now.

Some people criticise some of our chemical and pharmaceutical companies, but I pay tribute to them. They have made a large contribution to agricultural production and to the well-being of human beings and animals. Anyone who knows about the suffering of animals affected by warble fly must be thankful that there are modern pesticides to deal with the problem.

I am a little concerned about the need to introduce the directives. I appreciate the need for harmonisation, but we have well-worn paths in these matters. The brief that has been circulated to hon. Members shows that the pesticides safety protection scheme is a well-trodden path. The Ministry and the industry are to be congratulated on their co-operation. There are firm paths to be followed before any pesticide can be used. First there is controlled clearance, followed by limited clearance, provisional commercial clearance and finally commercial clearance itself. Anyone with doubt about the matter has only to read this document to appreciate the care that is taken in this country over these matters. I hope that the Community will come up to our standard. I do not think that it always does so. I welcome the documents, but I am slightly concerned about their effect on us when our standards are of the highest.

I wish to make two points about the packaging and labelling of pesticides. It is not good enough simply to put "Poison" or a cross on the label. Many children cannot read "Poison". I believe that certain chemicals should be given obnoxious smells. A well-known weed killer, which I had better not mention by name, looks very much like Coca-Cola. It is very tempting to small children. Certain chemicals should be given an obnoxious smell so that as soon as the container is opened people can tell that they are highly dangerous.

Danger lies in the kind farmer or kind workman who says "I will let you have a small amount of this liquid for your garden or allotment". How we can protect youngsters and gardeners and other people from such kindness I do not know. It is not easy for a farmer to refuse when somebody says "I want to clear some weeds in my garden. Give me a bit of that stuff in this old lemonade bottle."

I wish to bring some of my fears to the Minister's attention. The labelling and packaging changes may present problems because new symbols are not easily recognised. If we are to have such changes and new symbols. I hope that the manufacturers and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will conduct a campaign to ensure that farmers and all the others concerned know about them.

Warnings about the dangers of the contents of packages or containers must be in our own language so that farmers and workers understand them. As we import many chemicals from other Community countries, it is important that people should be able to understand what is written: otherwise there may be more trouble.

I hope that the Minister will answer the five or six points we raised in the Select Committee, starting with discrepances and the need for derogations. I do not think that he dealt with them. I am sure that the House, and certainly the Select Committee, would like to have clear answers from him on paragraphs (a), (b) (c), (d), (e) and (f). That is the sole reason why the Committee recommended to the House that we should discuss these matters. It is not much use the Minister coming to the Dispatch Box if he does not give us clear answers. I am asking him to clarify these points, if not tonight, then in writing.

10.55 p.m.

Mr. Frank Hooley (Sheffield, Heeley)

Ever since the classic polemic "Silent Spring" against the use of chemical warfare in agriculture there has been a great deal of controversy about particular techniques. If I understand these documents correctly, they are concerned strictly with packaging and labelling and not necessarily with the actual techniques of the application of pesticides in agriculture.

I wish only to suggest that this is a matter of rather wider concern than simply the EEC. I want to inquire whether the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations, or even the World Health Organisation, has devised any rules, conventions, or suggestions on international symbols or techniques that would be recognised internationally to guard against the misuse or misapplication of very dangerous substances.

Pesticides are clearly exported not only across national barriers within the EEC but well outside the EEC. There is also the question of the use of these substances within developing countries. Developing countries may construe symbols, in accordance with their own cultural background and habit, far differently from meanings that might be immediately self-evident or self-indicatory within Western Europe. If we are to adopt any kind of international symbols on pesticides, they should be genuinely international and not applicable or recognisable merely within Western Europe.

If we are proceeding to a fairly universally recognisable system, I would have hoped that either the United Kingdom or the EEC Commission itself would go to the FAO, or the appropriate body within the FAO, and said "We have a system of marking or identification of pesticides. Can we not have genuine, widespread international discussions about this to see whether the symbols that we are proposing and the techniques for packaging and identification are suitable and are not likely to cause misunderstanding in countries in East Africa, West Africa, Latin America or where-ever else the powerful agricultural business sends its highly toxic products?"

Even if taking the matter to the FAO was going beyond what was required, surely the EEC, through the Lomé Convention and the Council of the ACP coun- tries, has its own link with the developing countries. Surely consultations could have been carried out with the Lomé countries or the ACP Council about the marking and marketing of pesticides in order to obtain their views as to the best system of packaging, safeguards and symbolism to protect their people as well as ours.

As the hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling) rightly said, if we export these substances in too casual or lighthearted a fashion and they are applied incompetently or recklessly, they might well penetrate into the food that comes back to us, or comes into international trade in one way or another, and so cause damage to us. Indeed, we do not want damage caused to anybody.

This argument goes much wider than just the EEC. It is proper these matters should be discussed within the EEC, but I should like to see these matters dealt with on an international basis. I should like to see them being discussed within FAO, WHO and other international bodies so that we may have a system of widespread application and not just confined to Western Europe.

11.0 p.m.

Mr. Michael Grylls (Surrey, North-West)

The hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley) spoke of expanding the area of symbols outside the Community. I agree with him and I am sure that is right. It will be useful at the outset to obtain agreement among the Nine on a common form of labelling and packaging.

I must declare an interest in the chemical industry. I do not want to talk particularly about labelling and packaging, but I wish to say a few words on the notification scheme.

This has been a controversial matter within the chemical industry generally in Western Europe within the EEC. Most people agree that it is right that new chemicals should be notified to the regulatory authorities—in this country the HSE. It is right that there should be tests of new products and that the results should be passed on to the authorities. But it should be made clear in carrying out these tests that the responsibility lies primarily with the manufacturer. That is where the buck should stop. This is what health and safety at work really mean. If anything goes wrong with the product, it is the manufacturer who gets into trouble.

In regard to the notification of new substances, the regulatory authorities should have the job of ensuring that the tests carried out have been adequate and that monitoring procedures have taken place. However, we do not wish to establish a whole new bureaucracy and expensive testing techniques. The people who work in laboratories are very rare birds and there is a shortage of such staff in the developed world. Therefore, this could be an expensive operation.

The regulatory authorities have an important job to do in ensuring that conditions laid down for new products within the tests have been observed and that the conditions conform to the Health and Safety at Work Etc. Act. The public are concerned to see that controls and extra bureaucratic and testing processes are not on such a scale as to bring all innovation to a stop. That would be a disaster for Britain.

We may have many problems in this country, but on the whole we have been highly successful in innovatory procedures and in creating new chemical substances. Indeed, the chemical industry in the United Kingdom has been one of the great success stories, although there have been problem areas and we must not rest on our laurels but try to move still further ahead.

We all know that foodstuffs are controlled by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and medicines by the Committee on the Safety of Medicines, but there are ether chemicals that lie outside those two spheres that are dealt with in controlled conditions. They are not usually bandied round, I am referring to the ordinary chemicals used in factory plants under controlled conditions by people with a great deal of experience in handling chemicals.

There is a good deal of public concern about the frontiers of knowledge and the possibilities of ghastly accidents and incidents. We must try to temper that worry with practicality. Our former colleague, Mr. Christopher Tugendhat, the Commissioner in Brussels, spoke about these matters recently at the European Parliament. He said: We entirely agree that these tests are not cheap and that a balance must be struck between the necessity for tests on the one hand and the necessity not to increase the cost of production, and thus the cost to the consumer, on the other. Mr. Tugendhat was making the point succinctly that we must try to achieve a balance. I am sure that we arc all concerned that we do not sit on innovation.

Research is very costly and there is the question of confidentiality. There is concern that if too much data is thrown around in public, the view will be taken that it is not worth while going ahead with research. Whether we consider those in agriculture or those who have a disease, there is so much to be gained by research. This country has led the way in research and has done extraordinarily well. I believe that about 500 new chemicals are produced every year in Britain.

My hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling) referred to fireproof clothing and the danger of PBB, but we must put in the scales on the other side how many children's lives, for example, may have been saved by fire-proof clothing over the years. The Michigan disaster two or three years ago was a catastrophe, but it was not anything to do with the testing of a chemical. It arose because a thoroughly inefficent chemical company failed to label its product properly and it went into animal feeding stuffs.

We must put into the balance the advantages to be gained from PVC, polio vaccine or PBB fire-proof clothing. The huge advantages given to the public throughout the world by such products greatly outweigh any possible hazards. In the Michigan disaster there was a ghastly hazard and it is important to discover how it arose, but I do not think that it came about from testing.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree, especially bearing in mind what we have heard from the hon. Member for Devon, West (Mr. Mills), that it may well be that the time is coming when some form of equilibrium in the pesticides-agriculture equation may have been reached, and that in future it may be that research will not be so important as it has been in the past 25 years?

Mr. Grylls

I am not sure that I am a fit person to give an answer to that question. It is very much a matter of opinion. It is a highly technical subject whether we shall reach out into wider frontiers in the next 25 years than in the past 25 years. Maybe we shall and maybe we shall not. However, I take the hon. Gentleman's point. In 1977 there is greater public awareness of these matters. To that extent we are right to be talking about them tonight. There is no party division in these matters and we must achieve a proper balance.

Will the Minister give an assurance tonight that the testing of new products under the notification scheme will be relative to the risk and that the unnecessary and costly testing of every chemical will be avoided? Will it be what Mr. Tugendhat spoke of at the European Parliament, merely aimed at the chemicals that are the most dangerous, or potentially hazardous? It would be helpful if the Minister were to give an indication. I understand that he may not be able to do so tonight, but perhaps he will be able to let us know by letter. Many are worried about innovation being stifled.

Many mistakes have occurred through bad labelling. I hope that the proposals regarding labelling will be proceeded with quickly. As to the notification scheme—I came in half way through the Minister's speech, and I apologise, but I heard him use the word "caution"—I hope that the Government will proceed with caution on the details and will have in mind the national interest. We must continue to lead the world in innovation. We have an excellent record. We must not slip back. I give the rest of the directive a general blessing. However, I hope that the Government will carefully watch the notification part.

11.11 p.m.

Mr. W. E. Garrett (Wallsend)

I was interested in the remarks of the hon. Member for Devon, West (Mr. Mills). I am reassured by the Minister's statement that there are to be further consultations and assurances on this highly intricate matter.

We are talking not only about thousands of people employed in the chemical industry, but about thousands of people who apply chemicals. It is therefore important to get our objectives right.

I share with the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) a certain degree of scepticism about any EEC document. Many hon. Members are not sure whether our standards will be applied within the EEC. There is a great deal of concern in particular in the agriculture industry. Our standards—I am not being a little Englander—tend to be much higher than those of the people who will apply these directives in other EEC countries. Therefore, the Minister must explain these matters not only to the manufacturers of chemicals and the people who package them, but to the users.

We must exert more pressure than we have hitherto to ensure that the standards will be applied not only to this country but to other EEC countries. If they are not to be applied within the EEC generally, some Minister at some time must come back and tell us why. If the standards are not being applied, we should have the right to say that we are not having them, that we are ignoring them, or that we shall apply our own. My experience is that our standards are much higher than any standards hitherto applied within the EEC.

This is a confused situation. It is regrettable that this important documentation should have had so little discussion. Sooner or later this matter will emerge again. Thousands of jobs, millions of pounds of capital investment and millions of pounds of return on that capital investment are involved. Yet tonight we are just skirmishing round the issue.

I hope that the Minister recognises that hon. Members who are here are concerned about the outcome of the documentation that has been presented tonight.

11.15 p.m.

Mr. Giles Shaw (Pudsey)

I shall not detain the Minister for long because we are all interested in his reply. I agree with the hon. Member for Wallsend (Mr. Garrett) that this is a mightily important series of documents. It reflects upon an important industry. We are right to express concern about the way in which pesticides have been developed and the way in which labelling has lacked information for consumers. We welcome the documents as a step in the direction of tackling an area of danger.

Many comments will be made on Document R/2027. Under paragraph 7 I note that the interested organisations do not include any conservation bodies. Would it not be wise for the Department to include them? The debate was generated by the anxieties expressed by conservation organisations and by the natural requirements of agriculture.

I emphasise the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, West (Mr. Mills) about secondary containers. It is all very well to mark the major containers purchased by professionals such as farmers. The hon. Member for Wood Green (Mrs. Butler), was right to criticise the symbols. They should be more dramatic. The real problem concerns secondary containers. Empty containers should not be left to the individual purchasers, even if they are farmers. The local authority must have the responsibility of ensuring their safe removal once they are empty but still dangerous. It would not be sensible for large piles of toxic drums to be left in outhouses for a long time.

I ask the Minister for a clarification of Article 7 of Document R/2027. This allows States to provide for the use for certain periods of those substances listed in the annexe when faced with a threat to crop production which cannot be contained by other means. Does that mean that substances such as aldrin, endrin and dieldrin, which have a terminal date of December 1979, could be used? Does it mean that they could be used after that date for the 60-day period? If so, surely there is a conflict between that use of these chemicals, which are known to have a serious effect upon wild life and have a long breakdown period, and conservation. I thought that the document was designed to tackle the danger to wild life.

The issue that we are discussing is of the greatest importance bearing in mind the disaster in Italy about 12 months ago. We recognise that the agriculture chemical industry is of prime importance, but we are equally concerned with the safe use of dangerous products. We welcome the documents. We hope that they have a speedy passage to ensure a reduction in accidents due to the mis-use of chemicals.

11.19 p.m.

Mr. Strang

This debate has arisen out of the recommendations of the Scrutiny Committee. Like some other hon. Members. I should like to pay tribute again to the Committee's work. As the hon. Member for Devon, West (Mr. Mills), among others, is aware, it is quite a heavy burden to have to go through all these matters, notwithstanding that the Ministry of Agriculture tries as a rule to provide very competent and lucid memoranda. I acknowledge the work done by those hon. Members concerned.

Before turning to the points that have been raised, perhaps I should preface my remarks with a general observation on timing. The hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling) said that Ministers may have discussed these matters. I should like, therefore, to take the opportunity to point out that we are having this debate at a fairly early stage in the evolution of these proposals, which of course one expects to become eventually fully fledged directives, and, indeed, there will be continuing discussions at official level for some time, I envisage, before they come to Ministers in a Community context. I therefore take this opportunity at the outset to assure my hon. Friend the Member for Wallsend (Mr. Garrett) that we shall continue to consult the industry very fully.

What the hon. Member for Pudsey (Mr. Shaw) said about consulting conservation bodies was interesting. I think that he would agree that in general we tend to look at these issues from the point of view of human welfare and to some extent animal welfare. However, I shall look at the hon. Member's suggestion. My experience is that if conservation organisations such as Friends of the Earth feel that they ought to be consulted—I note from the hon. Member's reaction that he obviously does not have in mind Friends of the Earth. However, if those bodies concerned with conservation and pollution that he would like us to consult want to be consulted, perhaps the hon. Member will let me have their names, and we shall consider doing so.

The hon. Member for Westmorland mentioned the applicability of Document R /89/75 to plant pesticides. There is no intention in any of the three draft directives to include veterinary products such as warble fly treatments. I am not sure whether the hon. Member has had the opportunity to read the actual article of the appropriate directive, but it constantly refers to plants or weeds in virtually every one of the six respects listed in Article 2, although it is true that the definition in R/89/75 is intended to be wider than the other two directives and is intended to include rodenticides.

Mr. Jopling

Article 6, however, particularly refers to substances which give protection against vermin or animal or insect pests not classed as plant pests". That would imply that they would be animal pests.

Mr. Strang

Perhaps I should have made this general point earlier. These directives are at a very early stage. It is certainly our view that there are important drafting amendments to be made, leaving aside the issues of substance on which there is agreement to a substantial extent among a number of member States. However, I had better move on fairly quickly because there is not much time left to cover the points raised.

I shall work fairly quickly through the points raised by the Scrutiny Committee —(a) to (f). I covered them fairly well in my opening speech, although perhaps I could have addressed them more pointedly for the benefit of those hon. Members who have not been following these matters in detail in recent months. To some extent I covered the first two points when I acknowleged that there would be drafting amendments to the draft directives.

Taking up the point raised by the hon. Member for Westmorland about the manufacture of products destined for third countries, I emphasise that we are here talking about draft directives. The United Kingdom regulations in this area apply to the marketing and use of products in member States. We are legislating on a Community basis and the directives apply to marketing of products in the Community. They do not apply to marketing outside the Community. This applies particularly to labelling and to the E-mark. We naturally have to obey the laws in third countries.

On a technical point, there are situations when it is reasonable that a product that is not manufactured for use in the Community should be manufactured for use outside it. It would not make sense to apply the regulations across the board.

Some substances have been omitted according to sub-paragraph (c). This is a matter we are continuing to pursue. I made direct reference to the need for an appeal. We are in favour of it. Confidentiality, dealt with in sub-paragraph (e), raises a difficult point. I used the word "caution", as the hon. Member for Surrey, North-West (Mr. Grylls) acknowledged.

Perhaps it is easier for Tory Members to decide what the Government's stance should be. We do not wish to damage the export prospects of major international companies based in the United Kingdom. At the same time, the responsibilities of Government in this area—I am talking in terms of open government and greater disclosure of information by companies generally—mean that we wish to make sure that we do what is right on behalf of the community as a whole as opposed to what may be right for a particular company. We have had to move cautiously here and I do not think that there is much between us.

I come to the point raised by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). If I understood it, it concerned the point that if these draft directives are agreed, we have made it clear that we intend to implement through what is sometimes described as the voluntary scheme—more frequently known as the flexible scheme—rather than through the enactment of legislation. As I understand it, the position is that it is not necessary to enact any legislation or make any regulations to meet Community requirements. It is quite acceptable to implement these Community directives through the voluntary agreement system with the interests concerned in this country. If he would like me to do so, I shall write to the right hon. Member, drawing his attention to the legal basis, which I think will be in the Treaty of Rome, which enables us to do this. I shall write to the right hon. Gentleman—

It being one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER put the

Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 3 (Exempted Business).

Question agreed to.

Resolved, That this House takes note of Commission Documents Nos. R/39/75, R/1643/75, R/ 2026/76, R/2027/76 and R/2203/76 on Pesticides, Plant Protection and Packaging and Labelling.