§ Order for Second Reading read.4.31 pm
§ The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. John MacGregor)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
I know that there is great interest in the Bill from varying points of view, so it might be best if I deal with its general background and broad principles in my opening speech. I have no doubt that detailed points will be raised, many of which we will have to deal with in Committee and to many of which my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, who has specific departmental responsibilities for parts I and III, will respond if she catches your eye for the wind-up speech, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
The Bill deals with the three distinct subjects of contamination of food, deposits in the sea and pesticides. Although these each raise widely differing questions, there are important common threads running through the Bill in the protection of the environment and its living resources, the protection of food and the protection of human health. This range of subject matter serves to underline the fact that my Department's responsibilities run wider than purely agriculture, fisheries and food. In particular, we are responsible for a number of major environmental issues, and we take our responsibilities very seriously. The fact that we are legislating in this area demonstrates my Department's continuing strong concern for environmental issues and its willingness to recognise the need for changes and to take action upon them when that is shown to be necessary.
Much concern is expressed nowadays about the need for greater protection of the environment. In this Bill we have identified certain priorities, and are taking action which we believe to be desirable and at the same time practical. Such action must clearly take account of the need not only to protect the environment, but to avoid placing unnecessary burdens on our industries. Although a balance needs to be struck, these two considerations are not as much in conflict as is sometimes argued. We believe that a basically free market economy works best within a reasonable regulatory framework. It is always a question of getting the right balance. At the same time the "polluter pays" principle is of importance in ensuring that environmentally correct signals are given. It is also true that environmental protection is feasible only in cooperation with technological and economic developments rather than in conflict with them. I believe that the Bill is consistent with those principles.
To return to the free market issue, let me say specifically that part III on pesticides is designed to strengthen raher than weaken that market. Our existing arrangements were excellent in themselves, but they did not take enough account of the need for pesticides products to be traded freely across national frontiers when they were known to be safe — a topic in which the European Community Commission began quite properly to interest itself.
§ Sir John Farr (Harborough)
It might be worth calling the attention of my hon. Friend and of the House to the fact that the alleged green parties, those of the alliance, have not bothered to have a single Member in attendance in this important debate. That probably gives some indication of how it arrives at its calculations.
§ Mr. MacGregor
My hon. Friend makes a good point, which I hope is fully recognised outside the House. Further, I stress that there is wide attendance on the Government Benches, which I think demonstrates our interest.
As a result of the Bill, we will for the first time have the powers we need to exclude products which have not been approved here, but both traders and farmers will have available a rapid clearance system when they wish to import pesticides which are identical to products which in contrast we have already approved. I believe that on balance this will not amount to an artificial restriction on trade, but rather the reverse, since the interest of farmers and small traders is in finding low-priced sources of well-known products for which approval will be readily available.
The Government's objective is to ensure that high standards of environmental protection are set. As l shall explain, each part of the Bill has a firm foundation in existing practice or legislation, but we have nevertheless concluded that some further attention is needed in all three of them. Our aim is to set a high standard for the years to come, and I hope that the House will agree that the Bill is a major step forward.
Part I would provide greater protection to the public in the event of food becoming unsuitable for consumption following a release of harmful substances. I should explain the background. The Government have reviewed the existing procedures for ensuring the safety of food, and that review has revealed a gap in our legislative powers. Were there to be a serious emission of dangerous substances — such as, for example, the accident at Seveso in 1976—the Government at present would have no power in law to take precautionary measures to safeguard the public's food. They would be unable, for example, to prohibit the sale of food in the affected area while its safety was being checked. Part I would close that legal gap.
I must make it quite clear that the powers here would be activated only in serious emergencies, where there appeared to be a threat to the safety of food; they would not be used in relatively minor cases of contamination of food where there is no need to supplement the existing powers of local authorities. When responding to emergencies in the past we have relied on voluntary arrangements, and these have worked well on the very few occasions they have been used. An example was the sinking of the Aeolian Sky off Portland Bill in 1979, a ship carrying highly toxic chemicals. The Government had no statutory powers to act on that occasion. The fact that we are now taking such statutory powers does not mean that we expect a serious incident. We do, however, regard the power to take safeguarding measures as a prudent insurance policy.
One of the most important features of part I is that the procedures could be operated very quickly—if necessary within hours—and over whatever area was involved. Clause 1 provides for emergency orders which would contain provisions prohibiting any or all of the activities 795 listed in schedule 1. Emergency orders would come into effect immediately but would require affirmative resolution of both Houses of Parliament in order to continue beyond 28 days.
After an emergency order had been made, clause 2 would give Ministers the power to give directions as to how unsuitable foodstuffs should be dealt with. It is important to appreciate that emergency orders would contain prohibitions wherever ministerial directions would generally require people to do things.
§ Mr. Douglas Hogg (Grantham)
The Minister has mentioned clause 1 and the fact that emergency orders can be introduced quickly and will contain prohibitions. As he will know, they are approved by the affirmative procedure, which gives no powers of amendment. In those circumstances, will he consider the possibility of producing model regulations before any eventuality so that they could be the subject of consultation?
§ Mr. MacGregor
I should be willing to consider that and we can discuss it in Committee. The difficulty is that we do not know precisely what we will face on some occasions. We shall have to apply our minds to that. If my hon. Friend is on the Committee, perhaps he will raise the matter again.
I was talking about clause 2. It would be possible to give directions after the expiry of the emergency order in case food that had been rendered unsuitable by the incident subsequently came to light, or if new scientific information became available suggesting that further action was desirable.
Clause 3 deals with the authorisation of investigating officers and enforcement officers. There is a distinction between the two. Immediately following an incident, investigating officers would advise Ministers on whether an emergency order should be made and what should be done under it. That is relevant to the matter raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg) because different action might have to be taken under an order on different occasions.
After the emergency order had been made, enforcement officers would enforce the prohibitions contained in it and ensure that Ministers' directions were carried out. The Bill makes a distinction between the two kinds of officers because investigating officers would require greater powers than enforcement officers — in particular, the power to enter premises before an emergency order was made.
Clause 4 and schedule 2 deal with the powers of investigating and enforcement officers. These powers vary according to the type of officer and whether they are used before or after the making of an emergency order.
It might be helpful if I demonstrate briefly how the powers in part I might operate. As soon as the Ministry of Agriculture heard of a serious incident which could affect food in England we would send investigating officers to the scene. They would be specialists from the Ministry's regional organisation and its food science division. They would take samples of crops or food and, if they judged that it was necessary in the circumstances, advise the Minister that an order should be made. My right hon. Friend would then make an order selecting, as appropriate, prohibitions from schedule 1. The order would come into effect immediately, Ministers would have the power under 796 clause 2(3) to issue directions and enforcement officers would then have the power to enforce the prohibitions contained in the order and any directions issued by Ministers. These officers could be drawn from the Ministry's existing staff, but it is also likely that some of them would be local authority officers.
As time went on, it might be possible to relax the application of the restrictions imposed at the start of the emergency by using the power in clause 2(1) which allows Ministers to consent to anything prohibited in an emergency order.
It has been suggested that the Bill should mention local authorities, to make it clear that it does not prejudice their existing responsibilities and to ensure that they are fully involved in any emergency action. We gladly acknowledge the important role which local authorities have played—and will continue to play—in dealing with emergencies and food safety. We would certainly expect them to be actively involved following an incident; indeed, they might well be the first to hear of it. Nothing in the Bill inhibits this in any way and it would be quite unnecessary to lengthen part Ito spell it out. Nevertheless, the Government recognise the importance of having administrative arrangements in place as soon as possible after Royal Assent to ensure that, if the powers in the Bill ever had to be used, they could be brought into operation smoothly and effectively. With this in mind, we are holding discussions with local authority organisations and others.
§ Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)
How will the officers who are investigating be able to differentiate between one product and another? Might there not be an overlap and might not some products be excluded, even though the Minister intended to include them, because of the framing of the order?
§ Mr. MacGregor
I hope that that can be sorted out at the time. The investigating officers would be skilled in dealing with such matters, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman's anxiety will be covered in an emergency.
It has also been suggested that the Bill should provide for Government compensation for those affected by emergency prohibitions. It does not do this, for the simple reason that part I is designed to protect the public from the polluter. The Government are simply seeking power to carry out protective measures that responsible people would in all probability eventually agree to carry out voluntarily. If action taken under the Bill led to any economic loss, compensation should be a matter for the original polluter.
§ Mr. John Carlisle (Luton, North)
Is not my hon. Friend worried that in a major disaster the polluter might not have the resources to pay compensation? What happens then?
§ Mr. MacGregor
We can examine that aspect in Committee but insurance is the probable answer.
Part II deals with dumping at sea. Unlike other parts of the Bill, we are in part II bound by the provisions of two international conventions—the Oslo convention and the London dumping convention—and we are amending, rather than introducing, legislation. In 1974, the framework of control over sea dumping set down in the conventions was translated into United Kingdom law by the Dumping at Sea Act 1974. That Act has served us well 797 for ten years and I cannot stress too strongly that part II does not in any way weaken the control which we now have over dumping. But ten years of operation of the Act have shown us where it is deficient; and ten years of progress under the conventions mean that we need to update it. The changes that we propose are not radical, but they are valuable improvements.
It may be asked why the Bill does not refer specifically to these conventions. The answer is that they impose obligations on Governments, who must then decide on the best method of implementation. Part I achieves this for the United Kingdom, giving Ministers all the necessary powers to fulfil our obligations under the conventions. The very structure of part II — involving testing, licensing, imposing conditions and enforcement — and the criteria against which applications are assessed stem directly from the conventions. Any more explicit reference would be unnecessary.
Clauses 5 and 6 set out the activities for which a licence will be needed. The most significant change here is the introduction in clause 6 of specific controls over incineration at sea. Little marine incineration is done by the United Kingdom, but we must have the means to control it, not least because it is the subject of a protocol to the Oslo convention which the United Kingdom must ratify. Other extensions of control relate to scuttling, deposit from floating containers, and foreign vessels.
The Dumping at Sea Act only controlled the loading of foreign vessels in the United Kingdom and their dumping within three miles if they had loaded there. As foreign vessels are used from time to time, especially for incineration where there are no British ships, it is desirable to extend our control. Under the Bill, licences would be needed for loading as before, and for operations taking place within British fishing limits—200 miles or median lines — where the vessel had loaded in the United Kingdom. Similarly, the power of inspection of foreign vessels is extended out to British fishery limits.
Clause 7 provides power to make an exemption order. This will close a loophole in the 1974 Act, which referred to "permanent" deposits, and enabled people to claim that their operation did not need a licence because the deposit was only "temporary". The Bill therefore in principle covers all deposits, leaving the exemption order to spell out precisely what is exempt. The orders would thus cover activities such as deployment of fishing gear, incidental discharges from ships, and the deposit of human remains. I must stress that clarification is the aim here. There is no question of the power being used to exempt any kind of dumping which should be licensed.
We have not put the exemptions in the Bill because we want to consider the views of those affected before we commit ourselves to legislation. So there will be further wide consultation before the order is made, and my colleagues and I will be taking particular note of what is said in the House this afternoon and subsequently before we get down to drafting.
With clause 8 we come to the licensing procedure—the means by which the conventions are put into effect. We have stuck very closely to what the conventions require and to the Dumping at Sea Act. There are two changes, however. First, we have spelt out more clearly — the Dumping at Sea Act was not very clear on this point—the factors that Ministers may take into account in licensing dumping. Secondly, there are two changes to the 798 provision on licence fees: these are to broaden the basis on which fees may be charged to include monitoring work and to require consultation before fees are fixed.
The next improvement is in clause 10, which is a new power enabling Ministers to take remedial action following illicit dumping and to recover the costs if there has been a conviction. We hope this power will he used only rarely. In some cases remedial action will not be practicable—for example, where the waste was a liquid — while in others it is hoped that those responsible would take any necessary action.
Clause 12 is also new. It gives Ministers power to test oil dispersants and other substances which are used to treat oil spills at sea. Once tested and approved, these will be exempted under clause 7. This is a good example of the way in which the exemption order will be used. It w ill also considerably simplify the requirements for use of these products.
Clause 13 retains the requirement to keep a public register, which was in the Dumping at Sea Act, but we have now set out in schedule 4 the information which the register must contain. As with many of the changes from that Act, the emphasis is on retaining what we have while making the law clearer.
Part III concerns pesticides. Let me make it clear from the start that with this part of the Bill we would be legislating to control not only agrochemicals but all pesticides covered by the present pesticides safety precautions scheme. This means that we are concerned not only with chemicals used on farms and gardens but also with those used in food stores, factories, sewers, restaurants, kitchens and hospitals to kill pests and protect public health, as well as with those employed to preserve wood in houses and other buildings. I am making this point to emphasise that all of us benefit every day from the use of these products.
The benefits of pesticides are many and obvious, ranging from the eradication of disease to the protection of food, clothes and buildings. The hazards of misuse may not always be so obvious, but for many years successive Governments have recognised the absolute necessity of ensuring that pesticides are used in such a way as to maximise the benefits and to minimise the risks.
§ Mr. Kenneth Carlisle (Lincoln)
As my hon. Friend knows, there are many fears about part III, particularly because the regulations are not known. He has said how important it is for herbicides to be safe. Is he aware that many herbicides are very volatile and that when a fanner sprays his crop the herbicide can settle on his crop and then, under certain conditions, vaporise and drift over on to the hedgerow and the next-door crop, doing considerable damage to the plant life in the hedgerow and to the other crop? This is obviously a matter of detail, but I should like to have my hon. Friend's opinion at this stage. Would it not be possible to introduce a test of volatility so that only those chemicals which do not vaporise easily can be used?
§ Mr. MacGregor
I shall be saying something in due course about the fact that the regulations are not known. The problem of vapour drift is certainly well known. Many products of the kind that cause some vapour drift have been withdrawn by the industry and labels agreed under the scheme which I referred to earlier—the PSPS—for a 799 few remaining products include appropriate warnings. But this is certainly a point that we could look at in detail in Committee.
One point that I want to stress in approaching part III is that we should all recognise the excellent safety record of the industry under the scheme. Fatalities have, happily, been kept so low that it must now be possible to aim to eliminate them entirely. I believe that the figure is roughly two or three a year. The poisoning cases investigated in 1983 led to the identification of 12 incidents on the farm, in which 16 members of the public or agricultural workers suffered some chemical poisoning. I give these figures simply to emphasise that the agriculture industry is extremely conscious of the importance of the safety of pesticides, and they show that we have an excellent record.
Nevertheless, the number of concerns we face on pesticides — and I believe that farmers fully recognise this — is increasing. For example, what happens to them in water, in the soil and as residues in food, and what is their effect on beneficial insects? The range of products, the application systems and the possible crop uses are also increasing.
In these circumstances we do not think it possible to depend entirely on a non-statutory system. I believe that we are all agreed that the time has come to put our controls on a statutory footing.
I referred earlier to the important matter of imports, which is of course another reason for doing what we are doing in part III, which consists of only three clauses.
The first, clause 15, was the subject of considerable discussion in another place. It has emerged with several major additions, which we believe can rightly be regarded as improvements. It begins with a few succinct lines which encompass the objectives of part III: to protect the health of human beings, creatures and plants; to safeguard the environment; and to secure the safe, efficient and humane use of pesticides.
The remainder of the clause enables Ministers to meet those objectives by providing them with five main powers: first, power to set up an approvals system, including provisions for review, alteration and revocation of approvals; secondly, power to specifiy maximum pesticide residue limits in food, crops or feeding stuffs; thirdly, power to require information in connection with approvals or to fulfil international obligations on exchange of information; fourthly, power to disclose some of the information supplied in support of an approval, subject to certain safeguards; and, finally, the requirement to consult an advisory committee on all aspects of approvals and to consult the Health and Safety Commission about any regulations affecting the health and safety of workers.
§ Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth)
It might be very useful if the hon. Gentleman could say a little more about the projected composition of the advisory committee. Will he ensure that this is not dominated by any particular interest group and that the environmental organisations have a say?
§ Mr. MacGregor
My hon. Friend might wish to say something further about that in winding up. I think it important that the advisory committee contain people who are specialists in these areas and able to bring specialist knowledge to bear. It should not be regarded as a 800 committee that simply represents various interest groups. My hon. Friend is giving a great deal of attention to this aspect and will no doubt wish to say something about it.
Clause 15 also describes the offences and defences relating to this part of the Bill, while clauses 16 and 17 enable Ministers to levy fees from persons seeking approval for a pesticide and provide the appropriate enforcement powers necessary to back up the proposed controls.
I believe that these three clauses constitute a practical and flexible statutory framework which will enable us now and in future to ensure the safe, efficient and humane use of pesticides. These measures would not only provide controls over sale and supply which, through non-statutory agreements, we have had for some time, but for the first time provide powers to control all aspects of the storage, advertisement, use and disposal of pesticides which might impinge not only on safety but also on efficacy and humaneness.
§ Mr. Roger Freeman (Kettering)
Would my hon. Friend confirm that under these clauses dealing with pesticides new penalties will be available for the control of aerial crop-spraying where pesticides drift on to neighbouring land?
§ Mr. MacGregor
My hon. Friend will know that a large part of the control is the responsibility of the Civil Aviation Authority. He will recall that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Transport made further announcements about this in July of last year. I am very much aware that we shall want to consider spraying in detail in Committee and exactly what the Bill offers.
The extension relating to safety is undoubtedly an important step forward. This is, of course, primary legislation, which must and will be followed by implementing regulations.
I now come to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Mr. Carlisle). My noble Friend the Minster of State assured another place that the regulations will appear later this year. I repeat that assurance. He has tabled a paper that has come to be known as the "statement of intent", which describes the controls that the Government intend to implement. I have arranged for that paper to be updated to take account of the discussions in another place and of the amendments made there to part III. Copies of the revised paper are available in the Vote Office.
There is a further assurance, given before, which I now repeat. We shall consult all interested parties — whether representative or environment groups, consumers, agriculture, food manufacturing, the pesticide industries and, of course, Members of both Houses of Parliament who are interested—once the Bill is passed and before the regulations are drafted in final form.
§ Mr. Brynmor John (Pontypridd)
I apologise for interrupting the Minister, but this matter is central. I do not see how both those assurances can be right. If the regulations are to be enforced by the end of the year and consultations with all parties, which I very much welcome, are to take place, the draft regulations, or the main body of the draft regulations, must have been prepared already. If they have been, why should they not be available to the Committee?
§ Mr. T. H. H. Skeet (Bedfordshire, North)
Would it not be the right way to proceed, as this is a purely enabling 801 Bill, to draft the regulations first in their entirety, following consultation with the industry, and then bring the Bill forward so that, when we move into Committee, we shall be able to deal with the matter entirely rationally?
§ Mr. MacGregor
I recognise the concern of my hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, North (Mr. Skeet) and of the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John). The important point is to have enabling powers. After all, we are talking about not just part III, but parts I and II. To ensure that we have them, we are carrying out thorough consultation on the details. If the draft regulations had been drawn up in the form that the hon. Gentleman suggested, we would have made them available. We have made the statement of intent available because we wish to consult — it will be an intensive process — all those interested before we finally draw up the draft regulations.
One other pont is quite important. The statement of intent refers to the areas that the regulations will cover, but they are not drawn up in the detail that the hon. Gentleman has in mind because we want to consult—there is much to be consulted about.
In view of the concern that has been expressed by both the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend, we shall listen carefully this afternoon to the views of hon. Members on both sides of the House on how they wish to be consulted in the process of drawing up the draft regulations.
§ Mr. MacGregor
I thought I had made it clear that the form of draft regulations that the hon. Member for Pontypridd had in mind — which I assume are the draft regulations that will come forward to the House after the Bill receives Royal Assent, if it does—do not exist in that form at present. What exists is the statement of intent, which has been tabled. That exists in a form that can be put before the House, because we are anxious to be as helpful as possible.
§ Mr. John
With respect, I was not asking that. I think that we are all at one. There is no division across the Floor about the Bill. We want to make it as good as possible. What has been asked of the Minister is not whether regulations exist in a form that will ultimately come before the House—indeed, there would be no virtue in that, as we want an input into the content of those regulations—but whether any regulations, as opposed to a statement of intent, exist in any form at the moment.
§ Mr. MacGregor
No, we do not have the regulations in a complete form. Obviously, there are some thoughts about what should be in the regulations, which are in the statement of intent. If the Bill receives Royal Assent, we shall circulate all interested organisations with a series of proposals as to how we intend to proceed together with as much of the regulations as possible, with a view to consultation. I recognise the concern of the House. After all, this is an enabling Bill. I take the point that a crucial part of what we eventually intend to achieve will rest with the regulations. That is why I have said—I repeat it—that we shall listen carefully this afternoon to the views of hon. Members as to how they wish to be consulted in the drawing up of the regulations.
We are moving from a non-statutory scheme on the safety of pesticides to a statutory scheme controlling how pesticides are supplied, advertised, stored and used, and 802 to introduce criteria of efficacy and humaneness at the same time—indeed, for the first time. We must he sure that we preserve the best of the present scheme but we must also, in society's interest, take real advantage of the decision to legislate so that the new arrangements are sure, enforceable and open and offer greater environmental protection. At the same time, instead of the restrictive agreements on which we had to depend in the past, we shall have a clearer basis for trade.
There is little that I need add on the remaining clauses and schedules. Clause 20 provides a general defence of due diligence for the offences in the Bill and will protect those who have taken steps to avoid the commission of an offence. Apart from schedule 2, which relates to all three parts of the Bill, the schedules set out detailed provisions on matters that I have already mentioned. We have prepared the usual notes on clauses, which I shall circulate to members of the Committee as soon as they are appointed and we know who they are. I should warn them that the notes on clauses are fairly voluminous.
I hope that I have covered all the main points of the Bill.
§ Mr. John Carlisle
One point that is not covered in the Bill is the provision of seed corn and the chemical treating of seed corn. Will my hon. Friend say a word about why that was not specifically included in the Bill, or does he understand that it is included?
§ Mr. MacGregor
That is not the point on which I wanted to finish my peroration. I am not absolutely sure what the answer is. However, my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will make sure that that point is dealt with when she winds up.
I repeat that the Government believe in setting high standards of environmental protection. That is what the Bill is aimed at. I commend it to the House.
§ 5.7 pm
§ Mr. Brynmor John (Pontypridd)
As the Minister has said, the Bill deals with the effects of development that threatens not only the three areas of our habitat but the creators of that development. That which is intended to liberate us can also endanger, as we have recently discovered, not only immediately but often many years afterwards.
I think that this is the answer to the question asked by the hon. Member for Harborough (Sir J. Farr). Many hon. Members in all parties in the House have realised that there is no such thing as an unqualified benefit in this area. The Bill is a response to the growing awareness of that fact. There are penalties for all sorts of chemical developments which aid us in other areas.
As it stands, the Bill improves the present unsatisfactory legal position in those three areas. Because it does, we shall not attempt in any way to deny the Bill a Second Reading. This subject crosses party lines. The duty of legislative safeguard is not laid upon the Government alone; it lies fairly and squarely on the whole House of Commons. Our object must be to provide not simply a better legislative framework than that which we now have, but the best possible framework within the limit of our current knowledge. Judged by that standard, the Bill is not entirely satisfactory to us.
As the Government admit, this is an enabling measure. In many cases, as the Minister said to his hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg), it enables them to 803 make regulations. But that which gives Ministers the power to do all that is necessary also gives them the discretion not to do so. I do not believe that in this case it can be left to such wide ministerial discretion. I give notice that in Committee we shall try to ensure that it is not left to such wide ministerial discretion.
The passage of this Bill is the last opportunity that the House of Commons will have to express concern not only about the form of the measure but about the contents of the regulations. The Government have promised that wide consultations will take place with the organisations that are affected both during and after the passage of the Bill. However, when the House of Commons next considers these matters, they will be in the form of regulations which we shall have to accept or reject as a whole. That is an entirely unsatisfactory state of affairs. We shall be unable to improve them or to reflect the dissatisfaction that is felt by any organisation which believes that its views have been ignored during the consultation period.
§ Mr. John
No. With respect, the hon. Gentleman is not following the argument as closely as he normally does. We are referring to regulations which will not be available to the House throughout the passage of the Bill. If by his interjection the hon. Gentleman means that although the regulations are not available to us now they ought to be available at a later stage of the Bill, I should say that I intend to deal with that point and I very much agree with him. However, my point is that the draft regulations will not be available to the House on Report. The regulations will be available only when they are laid, prior to their coming into force. At that stage we shall be able only to accept or reject them. We cannot amend them. I do not claim that this House has a monopoly of wisdom on the subject, but I believe that a large number of hon. Members who are interested in the subject could subject the draft regulations to fairly searching scrutiny which would result in the regulations being as near as possible to the ideal that we all want — namely, the best possible form of legislation to cover this subject.
I return to the point made by the hon. Member for Harborough, that we are entitled to ask the Government to present the regulations to the House in draft form by the time we reach part III of the Bill in Committee or, at the very latest, on Report, if the undertaking given by the noble Lord Belstead, that these regulations will be in operation by the end of the year, is not to be hopelessly wrong.
I come back to the point that I made in my intervention: that the Government must have made good progress with their drafting of the regulations. Those who have held ministerial office know perfectly well that the regulations could not be in operation by the end of the year unless the draftsmen have already started to tackle them. Indeed, a calendar month has passed since the Bill completed its passage in the other place. If further progress has not been made since the passage of the Bill through the other place and now, one is entitled to ask what this month has been all about. I believe that this matter could have been debated earlier. Unless there is to be a long period between the coming into force of the Act and the regulations, without which the Act is ineffective, those regulations must be hurried on.
§ Mr. Skeet
Has the hon. Gentleman considered that, although we may have to wait for a considerable period before the regulations appear in draft form, since this is an enabling Bill, which involves many regulations, they could be included as schedules to the Bill? If they were included as schedules to the Bill, they could be examined by Parliament.
§ Mr. John
I should be prepared to accept the laying of the regulations piecemeal. The House should consider as much as possible, bearing in mind the time constraints which are placed upon the parliamentary draftsmen. All I am saying is that we deserve something more than we are likely to get, given the present rate of progress. According to the timetable, it is possible that there will be a very long gap between the Bill becoming an Act and the regulations being laid. If the regulations have not yet been drafted and we have to wait until the Bill becomes an Act before they can be drafted and sent out for consultation, I believe that the Minister's statement that the regulations will be in force by the end of the year is so optimistic as to be totally valueless. I regret that I have to put it so harshly. Nevertheless, I believe that it has to be said because the Minister's assumption is unrealistic.
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
May I ask my hon. Friend whether the Minister is in danger of misreading the spirit of the House? If the Bill contained political overtones, we might understand his position and he could argue his case. However, the Bill contains no political overtones. Every hon. Member seeks to improve legislation that governs pesticides. If it is the will of the House that the draft regulations should be put before it, surely it is in the interests of the wider public to ensure that they are made available and that the Minister responds.
§ Mr. John
On those rare occasions when there is all-party agreement, I believe that the maximum amount of information should be provided. The Minister has provided the House with an amended and updated declaration of intent. However, it is no more detailed, accurate and useful than the declaration of intent given by the noble Lord Belstead. All that will really satisfy me is the production of draft regulations. However, even if the Minister is unable to provide draft regulations, why does he not imitate the actions of Ministers in the Department of Health and Social Security who, when they have to provide regulations following an Act, make known precisely, although in general terms, the topics that will be covered by the regulations. That would enable both the House and those bodies which have to be consulted to find out whether there are any notable omissions and to consider the regulations in the most useful way. I repeat that this House will not tolerate having to wait a long time for the regulations while consultations amble along and nobody can contribute to the discussions.
I shall now deal with the three parts of the Bill in the order in which the Minister dealt with them. Although pesticides have captured most of the interest, all three parts of the Bill are of the greatest importance if we are to safeguard our environment and welfare.
As the Minister pointed out, part I of the Bill deals with the consequences of a man-made disaster upon our food. Clearest in our minds is the ghastly tragedy at Bhopal. I well remember the great effect that the Flixborough disaster had upon this House. Both of those disasters are emergencies of the kind about which the Minister has 805 spoken. Therefore, the principle greatly commends itself and commands the support of the House. I am only sorry that it has been soured by the astonishing failure of the Government to consult local authorities in advance. No adequate information has been provided.
The Minister said that the local authorities which he failed to consult in advance have very wide powers over matters of this kind. There must, therefore, be a clearer definition of what is meant by a major emergency. The Minister referred to a serious national emergency, but nowhere in the Bill is the emergency of which he spoke defined. That emergency must be defined for two reasons. First, we must avoid both the Government and local authorities each seeking to tackle exactly the same emergency, thus creating an overlap. Secondly, we must avoid a possibly fatal hesitation because the Government think that the local authorities are tackling it, or because local authorities think that the Government are tackling it. An easy way to dispel that suspicion would be to clarify the definition and to record local authority responsibilities on the face of the Bill, which is what local authorities of all political persuasions want.
I turn to the point made by the hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle). I shall not take the same example, because I do not think that it was as apposite as the two illustrations that I shall give. What will happen when the "polluter must pay" principle is inadequate? There are two ways in which it could break down. The first is where an emergency is declared, no pollution arises and yet a perishable crop, such as soft fruit, is ruined. I understand that the noble Lord Belstead said that his view was that if the Government made a gross mistake a legal action could be taken against them by the food producer. I am dubious about that. I do not understand the distinction that is being drawn in the other place between a gross and an ordinary mistake. If the declaration of the emergency is mistaken, it leads to compensation or it does not.
The second way is where the polluter cannot be identified. That is not as fanciful as it appears, because in many cases water authorities, in Wales and elsewhere, have the greatest difficulty in tracking down those who cause the chemical pollution of waterways. Prosecutions are often inhibited because of the authorities' failure to identify the polluter. In such cases, the Government must make it clear whether the affected producer is to bear the loss or whether there will be some form of compensation scheme if there is no other adequate cover.
On dumping at sea, I agree with the Minister that, despite some alarmist comment, what is in the Bill for the most part greatly strengthens the existing Act. It is difficult to determine whether the deposit is permament or temporary and whether it is in territorial waters. One of the criteria placed upon the licensing authority is that it must consider the protection of human health. That is a wise and a sensible precaution. It is one of a number of improvements contained in the Bill.
Curiously, the Bill repeals section 6 of the Dumping at Sea Act 1974. The Bill was introduced twice in 1974 with the support of both parties that formed Governments in that year. During that time my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, South (Mr. Buchan) and the noble Lord Stodart of Leaston regarded that section, which provides power to check a dumping vessel from another convention state with the consent of that country outside our territorial waters, as an important safeguard.
806 The Government's answer is that the provision had not been used for the 10 years of its existence. I find that unconvincing, because the section may have been a deterrent. It would be unfortunate if, even with the consent of the other signatory state, we could not deal with a foreign vessel which is dumping just outside our territorial waters. We want the Government to tell us why that backup power is no longer necessary. Otherwise, I give the Minister notice that the Opposition will seek to restore it in Committee.
The dumping of radioactive waste is a worrying problem. The trade unions, in particular the National Union of Seamen, have helped to focus public anxiety on that subject. That led to the Holliday report. We require an assurance from the Government that the report's recommendations will be implemented in full and that ideas currently being discussed for storing such waste under the seabed will be covered by the Bill which relates to dumping on the seabed.
I hope that the Government will reconsider the preliminary view of the Secretary of State for the Environment that the committee which will review disposal and storage options should be internal. The matter is so sensitive that the public will be reassured only by participation, and that dictates an independent inquiry.
Britain needs to review its policy on dumping at sea. Of the Oslo convention countries, we are responsible for 98.8 per cent. of the sewage sludge dumped at sea. Despite suggestions for the constructive use of that waste, we appear to have no strategy for the future. We are the second worst country for the dumping of industrial waste. Whereas the worst country, France, dumps from one industry, Britain dumps from a wide range of industries. Most other western European countries now plan to phase out marine dumping. If the United Kingdom continues, it is threatened with isolation by the end of the decade. We cannot risk that, and I hope that the Government will actively pursue a change of policy.
Part III of the Bill relates to pesticides. It has evoked great interest, but those of us who remember the pre-pesticide era of food production will know that pesticides have benefited food production not just in this country but in Third world countries.
We cannot consider banning pesticides or indulge ourselves in a yearning for a supposed organic golden age. It never existed. We are, however, dealing with poisons. The exact amount of damage may be a matter for conjecture, but there is evidence that they cause the deaths of birds, butterflies and bees, damage to crops, and affect health. We do not yet know whether they cause insidious damage to human health.
With the known risks from those poisons, the Opposition reiterate that the heedless, indiscriminate use of pesticides, as in the past, must cease. In a nutshell, the Opposition believe that the use of pesticides must be the minimum necessary to make them effective, coupled with the maximum possible accuracy in their application.
§ Mr. Kenneth Carlisle
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the need to be accurate when spraying. It is therefore necessary to have the most up-to-date and precise machine for spraying herbicides. I do not know whether he agrees that it would be helpful if the Advisory Committee on Pesticides could also advise on the new techniques which are coming forward to ensure that they are accurate.
§ Mr. John
The hon. Gentleman may have hoped that I was passing from the subject, but I assure him that that was one of the topics with which I was going to deal. I was going to tell the Minister what I believe the regulations should contain under three headings. First, they should deal with who should apply the pesticides; secondly, how they should be applied—that is the point raised by the hon. Gentleman—and, thirdly, which pesticides should be applied.
There is some merit in repeating the American distinction between what they call general pesticides and restricted pesticides. General pesticides are the less toxic, such as the ones that we use in the garden. If the correct strength is used, they can be applied without any formal training or supervision, but there are strong arguments for saying that those who apply more toxic pesticides should be trained. The most clear case is for training of those who contract to spray for others. The danger is that such firms will affect neighbouring properties and people nearby.
Even more important is the need for control of those involved in domestic and industrial pest control. Amazingly, that did not even raise a mention in the debate in the other place. Such spraying and treatment involves sensitive aspects, such as hospitals, and often occurs in confined spaces. The capacity to cause harm unintentionally is great. Although we have been fortunate to date, because no great harm has been done, there could be major incidents.
There is every reason to believe that trade associations would welcome compulsory registration of those who contract to spray for others. The trade associations believe that there is no place for cowboy operators when poisons are used. Perhaps BASIS, which is a scheme for pesticide suppliers, and its domestic industrial equivalent should have statutory force to ensure that those who contract to spray for others are qualified and registered. The yellow pages of any telephone directory show dozens of firms which say that they are qualified in pest control and which offer to contract to spray but one does not have the slightest idea whether their operators have any qualifications or training. That intolerable position must be changed.
Applications by farmers and their employees are of more practical difficulty although they are equally important from a health and safety point of view. Even though the number of farmers who apply pesticides to their farms is comparatively small and the occasions on which they use the pesticides comparatively infrequent, farmers need to be aware of the dangers. Farmers now admit the temporary ailments they suffered from the organochlorines and organophosporous pesticides. With the use of new insecticides and pesticides, the risk to those farmers should not be allowed to continue. Perhaps the agricultural training board could undertake training and certification of those using the pesticides.
I urge the Government not to hive off the licensing function. I hope, because of the answer I received on 4 December 1984 from the Parliamentary Secretary, that the Government will be open to considering whether to use the trade associations to undertake licensing. We are talking about the protection of human health and the natural environment. The Government cannot and should not even try to avoid their responsibilities for those aspects.
§ Mr. David Crouch (Canterbury)
The hon. Gentleman is not quite correct. He might even be unintentionally 808 misleading the House. The Bill is about the protection of human health; it is not about the protection of the environment on the land. The Bill does apply to the sea. Nothing in the whole of part III applies to the protection of bees, birds or butterflies—three species to which the hon. Gentleman referred. I hope that in Committee the hon. Gentleman will consider tabling amendments to cover this type of environmental protection. The Bill's title includes "Environment Protection".
§ Mr. John
Far be it from me to eschew an opportunity. In part III, clause 15(1) states:The provisions of this Part of this Act shall have effect with a view to protecting the health of human beings, creatures and plants, safeguarding the environment and securing the safe, efficient and humane use of pesticides.
§ Mr. John
I accept that it is not enough. That is why I am saying what I believe should be in the regulations. The hon. Gentleman must not set me up as an Aunt Sally to knock down and then courteously pick up the point again. People are bruised in that process, and I do not intend that to happen in a subject for which, for once, I bear no responsibility.
Overwhelmingly, spraying in the United Kingdom is done from the ground. Often too much pesticide is applied and sometimes it is applied inaccurately. Damage can be caused by spray drift or vaporisation. Far too many of the appliances used are old and badly maintained and, because of their design, inaccurate. A continuing search for more accurate, and therefore more economical, means of application of pesticides is necessary. Concern has been expressed about the fact that that search might be inhibited by the passage of the Bill. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will reassure us that the regulations will not hold back the technology that will promote a more accurate application of pesticides. I believe that the Government should do everything possible to ensure the continuance of such technology, and that means the testing of equipment.
A small proportion of spraying — I believe about 2 per cent.—is done from the air. Although the proportion is small, that is the most visible and most accurate form of spraying. It has led to highly publicised incidents, about which Ministers have more reason to know than the rest of us. There is obviously a need to spray upland bracken from the air, but many of us are unconvinced about the need for the present volume of spraying from the air at low levels. Of all the subjects raised in this debate, I believe that this will be the most closely examined, because the divided responsibility between the Department of Transport and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food does not encourage reporting of incidents or the easy enforcement of the regulations.
Domestically, the United Kingdom has had a good record under the pesticides safety precautions scheme, but imports have caused the voluntary scheme to break down. We are anxious for safety and efficacy to bear equal weight in this testing. There are difficulties in enforcement. The Health and Safety Executive is charged with a major enforcement role, yet it is being given only 18 additional staff. We all know of the manpower difficulties faced by the HSE. The allocation of 18 more people will not make for efficient enforcement, and that is a great pity.
Although assessment cannot supplant enforcement, assessment at an earlier stage — by the Advisory Committee on Pesticides — has assumed greater 809 importance. Suggestions have been made to broaden the committee. Some quarters have suggested that its functions should be transferred to the HSE. I would favour giving the Advisory Committee on Pesticides wider scope. The committee should include representatives of the trade unions whose members work with pesticides and should represent consumer interests and environmental organisations. The committee's independence should be underlined by giving it an independent secretariat. At present the committee relies on MAFF for is staff requirements.
The Government should show more imagination towards the committee by charging it with following up the ecological consequences of the use of pesticides. The committee could be involved in promoting new techniques and investigating a subject which I believe we should all take seriously — reduced dependence on pesticides. We are in a high input, high output agricultural economy. The high input side needs to be revised drastically, thereby securing control of what is applied.
That is not enough. We must know what substances are being used for spraying. The Government are making sympathetic noises about information. The question is: how far will they go in making the information available to the public? We believe in the maximum possible disclosure of the toxic effects of pesticides. Of course, there are commercial considerations, but that is true in the United States of America where competition is just as fierce and where development costs are at least as great. Yet there is available publicly in the United States information which is denied to the United Kingdom public about the toxic effects of pesticides. In the United States no one seems to think that the availability of the information undermines commercial confidentiality. We want the new regime to go well. We accept it and want it to be accepted by the public. For that very reason, we need to legislate for the maximum disclosure of information.
Let me underline the concern of many people regarding the export of pesticides. Pressure for greater production in the Third world often obscures the dangers of the substances. We cannot beat that by a unilateral veto, but the hazards of pesticides should be made known to the Governments concerned. Powers to ban the export of pesticides exist already, but there is a feeling abroad that the Government are resisting the principle of prior informed consent, thus seeming to put us against the Food and Agricultural Organisation in this regard. Third world countries do not have as much to fear from us as they do from many other countries. That is why support for the principle of prior informed consent would set an important example which the rest of the world could adopt with profit. We should give a lead in this sector.
As the Minister said, to adapt slightly a Chinese proverb, we will be living with interesting committees. This will be one of them. Many important issues will be debated. I have had time only to outline them. It is our very agreement with the principle which makes us determined that, when the measure becomes an Act, it will be one of which all hon. Members can be proud.
§ Mrs. Virginia Bottomley (Surrey, South-West)
Many will support the Bill. Part I, which gives Ministers widespread powers to make emergency provisions to prevent the public eating food that may have been 810 contaminated following a major disaster, will be particularly welcomed, as will the provisions regarding dumping at sea.
I want to address my remarks particularly to part There has been talk about the need for balance in the debate. In a sense I think I can provide that balance because I have in my constituency the headquarters of the World Wildlife Fund, as well as part of ICI's plant protection division which deals in agrochemicals.
Many people have been worried about the increasing use of pesticides. In 1972 the World Health Organisation estimated that over 500,000 people were poisoned by pesticides each year with 5,000 fatalities. In justice, it must be said that Britain is not represented proportionately in these figures. In 1982, for example, out of 4,000 nonfatal accidents on farms only 28 involved pesticides. Clearly, the incorrect use of pesticides can endanger crops, harm wildlife and contaminate food. Organisations such as the World Wildlife Fund have brought to public attention examples, such as the increasing residue of poison at Clear lake in California where the over-zealous use of DDD to deal with the gnat population almost eliminated the population of Western Grebe, a local diving bird.
Pesticides inevitably involve risks to users, bystanders, consumers, livestock and domestic animals, as well as to the rest of the environment. It is important to give a balanced view of the role played by pesticides. Between 1955 and 1965 it was estimated that 15 million people throughout the world were saved from dying from malaria by the use of DDT. It also prevented the spread of typhus epidemics following world war 2 by providing a cheap, effective mechanism for controlling lice. Above all, pesticides have meant that people can enjoy good quality food at low prices.
I welcome the remarks of the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John) about the part played by pesticides in the Third world. We know that 30 to 50 per cent. of the crops are lost through natural causes. A further 30 per cent. would be lost without the use of pesticides.
In addition, the part played by the agrochemical industry in the United Kingdom needs to be emphasised. I have already said that within my constituency I have part of the plant protection division of ICI. In 1983 a total of 7,300 people were employed in the agrochemical industry, 2,000 being involved in research and development. This is very much a technological area. Over half the production goes in exports, which were valued in 1983 at £361 million. There has been considerable expansion in recent years in ICI alone, the turnover having risen from £10 million in 1966 to £650 million in 1984.
I am confident that there will be a widespread welcome for the proposals that no pesticide should be sold or used in the United Kingdom unless it has been exhaustively tested and found to be safe for its recommended use. Non-statutory arrangements depending on good will and voluntary co-operation have worked well for the most part. The pesticides safety precautions scheme, a voluntary scheme set up in 1977 and now estimated to cover 90 per cent. of the products in use, has given the country an excellent record in the safe use of pesticides for 27 years. There have been no fatalities on our farms arising from the recommended use of pesticides. There has been a declining level of residues in foodstuffs. Recently credit was given by the Consumers Association in its report on the subject. There has been a reduction in wildlife 811 incidents involving pesticides. Demands for safe and effective crop protection have increased. It is right that the Bill extends beyond manufacture to the safe use of pesticides and will provide a statutory requirement for product efficacy.
There are areas of concern to which I should like to draw attention. In regard to the ownership of safety data, it is expensive to meet the safety requirements on new products. This has been estimated at about £7.5 million. Considerable resources and expertise are involved. I appreciate the public's need for reassurance, and their desire for information to inspire confidence, but it is important to provide a balance between the provision of information for the benefit of the public and the provision of information that can benefit commercial rivals. We must take account of the commercial interests of manufacturers.
With regard to exports, 90 per cent. of sales from the United Kingdom go in exports which are valued, as I said before, at £361 million. I hope we shall not fall into the trap of dictating to Third world nations about which products they should and should not buy. That is patronising and inappropriate. It is not for us to calculate the risk-benefit analysis as it may appear in other parts of the world.
§ Mr. Hardy
I am following the logic of the hon. Lady's approach. I agree that we should not be patronising to the Third world, but would she not agree that if we are to sell to the Third world a product that we ban here, or whose use we limit severely, it would be at least honourable for us to tell the Third world that it is a dangerous product?
§ Mrs. Bottomley
I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's point, but it is important to say that there is a difference between products that are banned here and products that are not cleared here. Some products that are produced in Britain do not need clearance here if, for example, they are designed for use on rice, tea or coffee crops. That important distinction is not always immediately apparent. I certainly believe that all the relevant information should be available, and that the fact that a product is banned should be made known. However, our efforts should go more towards training Third world countries about the importance of clear labelling and about the ways in which pesticides are used. It would be ridiculous if the outcome of the Bill was that we were extremely restrictive and bureaucratic with regard to exports but permissive with regard to imports.
I join the hon. Member for Pontypridd in asking whether it would be possible to consider extending powers to enable my right hon. Friend to support the British agrochemical supply scheme. It was set up in 1978 by the manufacturers to set standards for distributors and for the storage of pesticides, and has brought about a great improvement in this area.
I welcome the Bill. I hope that it will provide improvements and inspire confidence in the public that the Government are establishing a balance between the needs of the environment and the needs of the population, not only to maintain health but to provide reliable, long-term sources of good quality food.
§ Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)
There can be few issues on which public anger surfaces where political positions on the Floor of the House do not divide us. The Bill gives the House an opportunity to examine pesticides objectively and to draw on the substantial public anxiety that exists on this matter. I shall direct my remarks to part III of the Bill, which is the most important part. It has certainly elicited most response outside the House, although I am sure that those who are fortunate enough to serve on the Committee will deal in great depth with all aspects of the Bill.
During the past few days I have approached many hon. Members, including Conservative Members, to discuss privately with them their views on the Bill and their general attitudes to pesticides control. There is a clear consensus on the matter. If anything, the Minister was slightly out of step today when he refused to be more forthcoming about the draft regulations that are being considered by the Ministry. If he published those draft regulations, even in the elementary form that they exist today, the House would be grateful and the Committee would be indebted to him, because that would provide for a far more reasonable and rational debate, which is what the country expects of the House of Commons.
In 1979, the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution summed up its attitude to pesticides by saying:Pesticides are by design biologically active and hence hazardous chemicals however stringent the tests applied to them. There is the possibility of unforeseen and unforeseeable effects. They should be used with care in the minimum quantities needed for effective pest control and increasing usage should be questioned.That cautionary statement encapsulates many of the reservations that have grown about the current level of pesticide use and its control. There is a deep-rooted suspicion in the minds of the public that pesticides pose a greater hazard than is generally admitted, and even farmers are beginning to question some of the underlying assumptions that have governed pesticide use since the war. That fear is by no means irrational. It is now accepted that a significant proportion of chemical spray ends up in the food that we eat—a fact that was brought to public attention by the discovery of large residues in a survey of supermarket food last year. Pesticide residues arrive in food through crop overdosing and spray drift from neighbouring fields and because some farmers apply pesticide shortly before harvesting, although there is usually supposed to be a gap of several weeks between spraying and eating the crops.
Three sets of problems confront us in this debate—problems for the people, problems for the farmer and problems for the Third world. To take problems for the people first, there is strong evidence that many more people suffer ill health from pesticides than official figures suggest. A survey of 80 farmers discovered that more than half had been poisoned at some time or another, but that only one had bothered to report it. That is completely at variance with the statement by the Minister, who seemed to write off any damage to health when he referred to isolated cases.
Recent reports from Friends of the Earth and the Soil Association show that many pesticide incidents are never reported. Pesticides can produce immediate symptoms, such as nausea and headaches, but many are also suspected of causing cancer, and there is a growing belief among 813 researchers that they also cause allergies. Although most pesticides used in Britain have been passed by the pesticides safety precautions scheme, some have been banned in other countries; the popular paraquat has been banned in Germany. I have to say that insufficient monitoring and a generally laissez-faire attitude to agrochemicals have allowed health problems to build up for decades without being effectively challenged. Indeed, it is hard to measure to what extent that has happened during the years.
There are also substantial problems for farmers. It would be misleading to criticise pesticides solely on environmental or health grounds. Farmers have pragmatic reasons for being unhappy about the current levels of use. The prospects of substantial cuts in farming subsidies, along with current quota problems, mean that farmers have an urgent priority to reduce waste. One way to do that would be to pursue a major rationalisation of pesticide policy.
During the past few decades, pesticide research has been strangely lopsided. Chemical formulations have become progressively more complex, while their delivery methods have changed little since the 19th century. Using conventional hydraulic nozzles, less than 1 per cent. of the sophisticated and expensive pesticide reaches the pest at all. It might be true that more efficient delivery methods are being developed and, in some places, used today, but until now they have received little encouragement from the wider farming community, and indeed some positive discouragement from some sectors interested in continuing high pesticide sales. I was pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John) drew attention to that point in his speech, and we must follow it up in detail in Committee.
There is also a growing problem of pesticide resistance. Heavy reliance on insurance spraying means that pests are evolving resistance to some chemicals more quickly, thus seriously shortening the useful lives of the chemicals. Several pesticide firms already have problems financing new products as a result of pests quickly developing resistance because of pesticide over-use, and reports suggest that some are likely to go out of business as a direct result.
Far from being more efficient, farmers continue to use grossly wasteful methods of applying spray and are becoming progressively hooked into using more and more chemicals, to rapidly diminishing advantage. Many farmers are well aware of the contradictions inherent in relying on chemical companies, which sell pesticides, for advice on how to use them. They can see no alternative. They look to Parliament for an initiative, and the Bill, if wisely considered and amended in Committee, offers that opportunity.
At present, Britain, along with our European partners and the United States, is benefiting from pesticide exports to the Third world. This puts us under a strong moral obligation to ensure that these pesticides really are useful to the countries involved, an obligation which is all too frequently being sidestepped.
It is a matter of international disgrace that many pesticides which are banned or restricted in Western countries on health grounds are still exported to countries with less stringent safety regulations. It was estimated recently that 25 per cent. of all United States pesticide exports involved formulations banned for use in the United States. Oxfam believes that there are about 375,000 cases 814 of pesticide poisoning each year, including 10,000 deaths. That is a very different picture from the presentation given by the Minister. I hope that the Minister who replies will qualify that earlier presentation, especially as the figures that I have given are believed to be on the conservative side.
There is another problem with thoughtless pesticide exporting. Many seed firms are now owned by chemical companies which develop seeds and pesticides in an integrated fashion, breeding crops for high yield rather than pest resistance. This can be disastrous in a country where land and capital are particularly unevenly divided.
Rich farmers get higher yields from the new strains, but the poorer growers cannot afford them and lose out as the relative prices of crops fall. These farms are then gradually bought out by richer farmers, who often convert to cash crops, making the inequalities even more acute and acting as a destabilising influence, often on the whole region.
These and other problems are coming to a head at a time when a growing number of farmers are turning their backs on chemical-based farming and are turning to an expanding wholefood and basic food market. The Bill has brought many green groups into the pesticide debate for the first time. The wide range of organisations which have been involved in lobbying, including the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Friends of the Earth, the Soil Association, the National Society for Clean Air, the Royal Society for Nature Conservation, the Joint Committee for the Conservation of British Insects, the Flora and Fauna Preservation Fund and Oxfam, shows the urgency with which the legislation is regarded.
Recently I chaired a meeting in the House of most of the major organisations concerned with the pesticides issue. At that and subsequent meetings, nearly all the organisations—with the exception of those with a clear commercial interest, such as the NFU and the British Agrochemicals Association, which, I must confess, to be fair, were not invited to participate in our final discussions—came to a broad agreement about the main changes for which to lobby at this stage.
The targets were not chosen easily, and many groups resisted such a general approach, having individual priorities, which will continue to be followed up in Committee, after the Bill becomes law and when we discuss the regulations. Despite this, a series of recommendations were put forward which, while not meeting all the objectives, provide a broad consensus of the most important points at this stage in the pesticides debate.
The first is aerial spraying, which provokes by far the most pesticide-related public complaints, although aerial spraying accounts for only 2 per cent. of British spraying. Virtually all the industrial groups admit privately that stricter controls are needed, but often they cannot say exactly what they have in mind when asked for suggestions.
Such regulations as exist are often ignored in practice, and aerial spraying would be uneconomic in many cases if all the regulations about not spraying near houses and roads were taken really into account. Many groups have called for an outright ban, and there is support for that in the farming community and even among hon. Members on both sides of the House.
However, there has also been a strong lobby in support of continued aerial application for forestry and bracken control, and for this reason the consensus among the green 815 groups is that there should at least be a ban on aerial spraying of arable crops where viable alternatives exist. That would avoid hazardous aerial spraying in well-populated areas.
The problems of inefficient and poorly maintained equipment could be solved to a large extent by the adoption of a series of British standards for spray equipment. Starting with general points about upkeep and safety, standards could in time be adopted for other factors, to include droplet size, amount of drift and chemical wastage. That would provide considerable insurance for the public against dangerous spray practices and would give farmers more confidence about the efficiency of machinery before they actually bought it.
At present, people wanting information about pesticide testing can often obtain it via the freedom of information regulations in the United States, while it remains secret in the United Kingdom. This situation gives the lie to claims that a more open system of pesticide regulation would necessarily give competitors an unfair advantage—the argument often used by the industry—whereas it really shows the need for similar statutes in Britain. These could be introduced along with safeguards to protect manufacturers. For example, all safety testing could be subject to examination to ensure that it was actually carried out by the firm seeking the licence, thus dispelling fears that safety data would be stolen.
The fourth area in which the green lobby is united concerns export controls and the principle of prior informed consent. Under that principle, the exporting country would have to provide full details of pesticide hazards to the importing country. Export would not take place unless the importing country gave its positive consent to the importation principle of prior informed consent.
The principle is incorporated in the draft of a code on the use and distribution of pesticides at present under consideration by the Food and Agriculture Organisation and the code has the backing of many countries. The Government should support the code, and the principle of prior informed consent should be introduced in this legislation as a first step towards the control of pesticide exports to the Third world.
Many other issues are of great concern to the green lobby. A strong case has been made for the compulsory training and licensing of spray operators, as in some other countries. This would minimise the harmful effects of pesticides and maximise the efficiency possible with new spraying technology. Many accidents occur because of ignorance rather than malice, and proper training could help enormously. The process of education could be helped by insisting that advertisements carry information about health effects and the pest resistance of the products they describe.
It has been suggested that a 10 m buffer zone at field edges would help reduce losses of wildlife from spray drift. I urge the Government to examine that proposal carefully. Likewise, I draw attention to the need for proper records to be kept by all sprayers, so easing the process of proving from where damage has come when spray drift occurs.
816 It is vital for us to debate pesticides. Deep concern is felt throughout the United Kingdom about the matter. I hope that, in considering the Bill, Parliament measures up to the importance of the issue.
§ Mr. David Crouch (Canterbury)
I listened carefully to the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), who spoke with passion and emotion, which the subject properly deserves. As the House knows, I have an interest in the chemical industry but I do not think that that involves the manufacture of pesticides. That does not mean that I am against the manufacture of such products. Both sides of the House, including both Front Benches, have expressed the belief that pesticides make a valuable contribution to human welfare. The Bill is concerned to ensure that we control most carefully the use of pesticides so that human welfare is not jeopardised in any way.
Reference has been made to the British Agrochemical Association, which I believe has described the aim of the Bill as well as any other body. It speaks of the use of pesticides and how they should properly be usedwithout harm to the applicator or bystanders, to the consumer of treated products, or to the environment at large.With that I would agree. Those are worthy aims of this important measure.
I welcome the Bill because it gives strength to the existing voluntary system that is known as the pesticides safety precautions scheme, which has been a voluntary system for the past 27 years and has given us a measure of protection. It has been a better form of protection against the use of pesticides for the consumer of food than the systems which have been introduced in other countries.
The National Farmers Union has spoken about the importance of thesafe and efficient use of pesticides".We welcome its controlled attitude towards these important but hazardous products. The NFU speaks ofreducing pesticide usage to the minimum consistent with efficient food production".I would say amen to that, but what exactly does that phrase mean? I think that it needs some explanation. What a fanner considers to be efficient food production might need some qualification by those concerned with the consumer or the environment. That is what we are considering, and that is what we shall go on to consider in Committee. It is our intention to achieve the right balance. I do not think that the NFU would disagree with the contention that there is a need for balance.
§ Sir Peter Mills (Torridge and Devon, West)
My hon. Friend is right to talk of the need for balance, bin one of the reasons why the farming organisations take the view that he has quoted is that sprays are so expensive that farmers restrict their use to the minimum. That is important for their profits and to ensure that sprays are not wasted by being allowed to pollute elsewhere.
§ Mr. Crouch
That is a good argument and I concede that point to my hon. Friend. However, I do not think that I have lost my argument. We must hope that farmers will not be in such a state of affluence that they become wasteful of these expensive products. It seems that they will no longer be in that state in the arable sector.
I go along with the argument that there is a need to keep the public informed about the hazards of pesticides. I believe that the public have a right to know what is being 817 done to farm products — to the food that they will ultimately consume—by the application of pesticides. What about harmful residues? Who decides what is a harmful residue? According to the Bill, and bearing in mind the regulations that will flow from it, it seems that the decision will be made by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and his advisers. However, we must know about the harmful levels of pesticides that may build up in harvested crops. We should consider full disclosure, notwithstanding manufacturers' commercial interests.
Full disclosure is required in the United States. Some years ago, under President Carter's Administration, the United States went through a traumatic period of environmental legislation. Perhaps that Administration overdid it a bit. It established the Environment Protection Agency, whose powers transcend any that we give to our agencies. The United States said that the public were entitled to know and that full disclosure must be made about these possible hazards. It is an environmental nation but it is also an extremely commercial nation.
The United States devised a system that safeguarded manufacturers' commercial interests while allowing the public to know exactly what might be at stake or what hazards might be present. A system was devised whereby a manufacturer could claim that the data revealed to the public related to his product alone. This would be supported by the responsible Government Department or agency as the case may be. This seemed to satisfy the United States manufacturers. Perhaps the provision of greater information could be considered, while safeguarding manufacturers' commercial interests to a satisfactory level. We must remember always that we must find a satisfactory level of protection for the consumer. In dealing with these important subjects we must put the customer, or consumer, first. The consumer, or customer, is extremely concerned, and rightly so, about health hazards and the environment.
I live in Kent in an area which endures a good deal of aerial spraying, which often takes place on quite small fields. It is used on oilseed rape, barley, wheat and beans. It is extraordinary that small fields of fewer than 20 acres are treated to expensive aerial spraying. There is the problem of spray drift and the possible danger that is posed by spraying aircraft. Parliament has an obligation to impose a duty on the Civil Aviation Authority to ensure that there is no hazard, or a very small hazard, from spraying aircraft. I live in a converted oasthouse and it seems to be much too high in the sky when the spraying aircraft are operating at a height that is below the level of my oasthouse in the course of spraying the nearby fields. There is spray drift all over the place. The spray goes over the roads and the surrounding houses. There is no control—
§ Mr. Crouch
Well, there is some control, but I am talking about the man who is flying the spraying aircraft. He is concerned not to hit trees or oasthouses. What happens to the spray that emerges from the pipes of his aircraft is another matter. I am not saying that aerial spraying should not take place and I do not want to over-emphasise the problems and possible dangers. We are advised that aerial spraying accounts for about 2 per cent. 818 of all agricultural land sprayed. However, there is a hazard that we should bear in mind. It is one that must not be neglected.
§ Mr. John Carlisle
My hon. Friend says that he does not want to over-emphasise the problems and possible dangers of aerial spraying, but that is precisely what he has done. Perhaps he will tell us what accidents have occurred while civil aircraft have been involved in spraying over the past few years. Secondly, perhaps he will take back some of his remarks about spray control. Aerial operators are stringent in complying with regulations while carrying out their task. My hon. Friend has exaggerated a minor problem.
§ Mr. Crouch
I shall let my case rest. The House will have listened to my hon. Friend. My car has been sprayed while I have been driving in Kent. This has happened while the sprays have been drawn by tractors in the fields. One is alert to "spraying today" signs and I avoid the lanes when such signs appear. On occasions I have been unable to see through my windscreen because of the spray that has been blown across on to the lanes. Perhaps this has happened because I live in a small out of the way place. My final comment on aerial spraying is horses for courses and planes for plains. It is not suitable to use aircraft for spraying on hills and down valleys. Aerial spraying is much safer when it is carried out over flatter country—perhaps that which is to be found in East Anglia.
I intervened in the speech of the hon. Member for Pontypridd to comment about the Bill's title. I did not interrupt my right hon. Friend the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food because he endured so many interruptions. I feel that the Bill is wrongly titled. It is more about the protection of food and the use of pesticides than environmental protection. Not enough mention is made in the Bill about the protection of the environment and our wildlife. My attention has been drawn to the fact that clause 15(1) states thatThe provisions of this part of this Act shall have effect with a view to protecting the health of human beings, creature and plants".That is the only mention in the Bill of creatures and plants, apart from another reference in clause 15(15), in which they are not mentioned with a view to their protection. Subsection (15) tells us that'pesticide' means any substance or preparation prepared or used for any of the following purposes—Subsection (16) tells us that "pesticides" include substances used for
- (a) destroying organisms harmful to plants or to wood or other plant products;
- (b) destroying undesired plants;
- (c) destroying harmful creatures".
That is not what I am talking about. I am talking about giving a little strength through the Bill to the protection of wildlife, and lending our support to the wildlife lobby. If I were a member of the Standing Committee, I would move three amendments dealing with birds, butterflies and bees.
- "(a) protecting plants or wood or other plant products from harmful organisms …
- (c) giving protection against harmful creatures;
- (d) rendering such creatures harmless;
- (e) controlling organisms with harmful or unwanted effects on water systems, buildings or other structures…
- (f) protecting animals against ectoparasites".
§ Mr. Crouch
Tomorrow morning I embark upon another long Committee journey. That will take up much of my time, and, in any case, there must be opportunities for all hon. Members to take part in Committee work. Therefore, I can only make my observations here.
I speak on the wildlife question as seriously as the hon. Member for Workington. Too many birds have disappeared from the British scene. In Kent the bullfinch has been shot to death because it feeds on apple and pear blossom. I can understand the farmer not liking creatures that feed on his crops, but could we not spare the blackbird, the thrush, the fieldfare, the wren and the nightingale? Could we not protect the many inhabitants of our island that make it such a beautiful place? Bees have a vital job to do. Kent, the Garden of England, could not manage without bees. We import them from abroad to fertilise the apple orchards. Butterflies are important too. Those factors are not unimportant. Let us write such species into the Bill. Let us be a little more definite about the protection of wildlife, as though we meant business.
§ Mr. Geraint Howells (Ceredigion and Pembroke, North)
This is a most important debate. It is very unusual for us all to be united in our deliberations. There may have been the odd hiccup now and then during this debate but in general we are all in favour of the Bill. At a time when technology is advancing by leaps and bounds, it is more important than ever that we should have sufficient controls over the use of that technology. That is as true in the world of agriculture as in any other, and it is most encouraging that we have been given this opportunity to discuss such matters.
As a farmer, I am naturally in favour of improving production and making the farmer's work easier. However, that need not be done at the expense of the environment or by endangering people or animals.
I hope that the Minister can clarify one point. According to clause 15(2), Ministers will have power to(k) specify how much pesticide or pesticide residue may be left in any crop, food or feeding stuff; and(1) direct that, if there is more pesticide or pesticide residue in any crop, food or feeding stuff than the proportion specified by virtue of paragraph (k) above, either of the Ministers shall have power … to seize or dispose of the crop".As we are now full members of the EEC, I wonder whether the Minister who replies to the debate can tell us what the situation is with regard to commodities imported into this country. That would be most helpful.
I do not entirely agree with all the recommendations of Friends of the Earth—I consider that some of those recommendations are impractical—but we all owe that organisation a debt of gratitude for drawing public attention to the dangers caused by human beings to the earth around them.
Part III deals with pesticides and their use in food production. My noble Friend Lord Mackie moved an amendment to ensure that applications of pesticides should be made only by, or under the supervision of, licensed operators. I understand that that amendment was flatly rejected by the Government, despite the fact that efficient licensing and training schemes are in operation in both the United States and Canada and, furthermore, that the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution recommended such a scheme for the United Kingdom. I wonder why the Government are so opposed to such a scheme. I should be glad of an explanation from the Minister today.
820 With the Government cuts in the Agricultural Development and Advisory Service, the users of pesticides could become entirely reliant on chemical company salesmen for all their information. The salesmen's interest is mainly in selling the product, not in warning of the problems.
The clause covering the monitoring of residues leaves much to be desired. In the outline proposals published last summer, there was a clause covering the way in which an approved product should be used, the method of use, where it could be used and the amount and timing of use. That clause has now been lost and the Bill has in consequence become weaker.
In clause 15(2)(j) The Government have made some concessions towards freedom of information. However, in my view, there should be further clarification of the conditionsthat the Ministers consider appropriatefor the provision of such information. I would welcome a statement from the Minister on that point too.
We are also concerned about the promised regulations, which will obviously have a bearing on further discussion of the Bill. Is the Minister consulting on those regulations? If so, who is being consulted and when will the process be completed so that the regulations can come before the House? The Minister said that there will be consultations this year and that the recommendations will be presented to us before the end of the year.
I believe that the whole House considers that the consultations should include the National Farmers Union, the Scottish National Farmers Union, the Farmers Union of Wales, the Ulster Farmers Union, the Country Landowners Association and the Young Farmers Clubs movement, which includes the farmers of tomorrow. If possible, representatives from such bodies should be on the advisory committee. We should also get in touch with the National Union of Agricultural and Allied Workers as its members apply pesticides. Many other organisations have been mentioned. I hope that the Government will get in touch with all the organisations concerned. If everyone is consulted, we shall get the regulations right.
I endorse the views of Oxfam on the export of toxic substances to the Third world. I should greatly welcome export controls to help safeguard people in less developed countries who are at risk from pesticides that are banned in Britain.
The agriculture industry is worried about the Government's determination, in spite of all reasonable opposition, to cut scientific research by some £30 million during the next few years. The cut will obviously affect research into pesticide use. It is also distressing that the soil survey for England and Wales is being pruned so drastically. I am worried whether there will by any proper long-term research into the effect of pesticides on soil. There should be more research into application techniques and the effect on people of drift and monitoring of pesticides in the environment. None of that will be possible if there is no money for research.
The Agricultural Development and Advisory Service, which is most valuable, is also being pruned. That is a great shame. Who is to carry out all the monitoring and provide advice? Without sufficient research and expert advice, the Bill could end up being just so many well meaning words. Nevertheless, my colleagues and I welcome the Bill and will not oppose its Second Reading. It does not go far enough, but we hope that the 821 Government will heed what has been said today. The most important thing is to get it right. The whole House is determined to get the regulations right this time. I hope that the Minister wiill assure us that we shall be able to examine the regulations in draft and in their final form before being asked to accept them in this House so that we can get them right.
§ Sir Peter Mills (Torridge and Devon, West)
I welcome the Bill and congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister on bringing it forward. I apologise for not being here during his speech — I was in my Agriculture Committee.
I welcome the initiative taken on the contamination of food. The Government are right to take powers under clauses 1 and 2 but I hope that there will be no tragedies which mean that part I has to be implemented. Farmers and processors feel ever more strongly about quality control. Vast sums of money are now being spent in the food industry to ensure that food is pure and of good quality. We must congratulate the processors on what they are doing.
The National Farmers Union has asked some questions, which I should like to draw to the attention of the House. One concerns compensation when food cannot be sold as a result of a tragedy that requires Government to take their emergency powers under part I. The union writes:No-one would criticise the Government for acting cautiously to protect the public, but equally no-one would bear the cost of protecting the public except the unfortunate individuals on whom restrictions are imposed in the circumstances. The NFU believes this is unjust, and that the Government should ensure that innocent third parties are not penalised in the interests of protecting the public. They should be compensated for their losses, which could otherwise ruin their businesses.I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister will deal with that important matter.
Although there are criticisms about farmers' use of pesticides, I am sure that the House agrees that farmers do not deliberately cause annoyance or other problems. The modern farmer is highly intelligent. He knows the business and the dangers of pesticides and will try to protect people and nature. Moreover, farmers have shown that they will co-operate on these matters.
Contrary to what one might imagine from listening to some people, pesticides are not evil. They are of great benefit to the community and, in a hungry world with an ever-increasing population, they play an important part in ensuring adequate food supplies. Bearing in mind the startling increase in food production overseas where modern pesticides have been introduced, we can only thank scientists and pharmaceutical and chemical firms. There would be a tremendous increase in hunger if pesticides were not used. Of course they must be used carefully, but we should not exaggerate the problems.
We have had voluntary arrangements and they have worked well. It is no use the Government having the proposed compulsory arrangements without providing and paying for inspectors. It is easy to put into the Bill that one needs to do something, but one must also provide the finance to pay for the inspector to check on something that has been done on a voluntary basis in the past. I should like to hear the views of the Minister.
My hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) made an interesting speech, in particular about the problems that he was experiencing in his garden and his 822 motor car. Such problems result from the inefficient use of pesticides. The efficient use of pesticides is essential to the farmer. The most costly item in his production is the use of pesticides. No farmer will deliberately start spraying my hon. Friend's car with his chemicals because he will not waste it. He will not want to see it go in the ditches and pollute the environment because he does not want to spray the caterpillars, butterflies or the birds.
§ Sir Peter Mills
With respect to my hon. Friend, there is an incentive. He has to be cost conscious, otherwise he will not get the contract to go on spraying the farmers' crops. From my knowledge of it, which is perhaps just a little more extensive than that of my hon. Friend, I should say that aerial sprayers are careful in these matters They are also strictly controlled and a pilot can lose his licence if he does not keep to the rules and regulations.
My hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury mentioned bees. By law or custom, the beekeepers are notified before spraying, so that the bees can be locked up before spraying is carried out. We must take note of what my hon. Friend and others are saying in these matters, but aerial spraying is most important. When crops are a certain height, if one runs over them with a land sprayer, once can damage them considerably. There are times of the year when it is so wet that one cannot get on to the land, but one can put on fertilisers and sprays by aircraft or helicopters. We need to do this in the modern world to produce the food at the price that will be paid for it.
Imports are important and in the south-west, with a ferry service between Plymouth and Roscoff, farmers find it handy to run over to the continent and buy cheaper sprays and chemicals. While there should be strict control over these matters, I do not see why farmers should be denied the right to fetch their own chemicals and sprays from abroad, as long as the products come up to the standards that we require. It would be useful if some of the instructions were written in English, as it would help the farmers in the south-west to facilitate the spraying of their crops.
Farmers have played an important role in developing new techniques of pesticide application, using reduced quantities of pesticide, either through new designs of machines or with conventional equipment. This must be right, because the less spray is put on, the better for all concerned, not only for the farmer, and his profit, but for wildlife or anyone else, even my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury.
A number of pesticides have been cleared, for example, for use on cereal crops, that are just as effective on the pests that attack flowers, fruit and vegetables. We want flexibility. The farmers should be allowed to use a spray that is cleared for cereals and other crops. This may be a minor point, but I believe that Lord Belstead made it clear in the other place that the Government were considering this.
I support the Bill. It is right that we have it. We should tread carefully, but it is in the interests of the consumer to have pesticides and farmers who care about these matters.
§ Mr. Ron Davies (Caerphilly)
Like other hon. Members who have spoken, I shall concentrate on part III of the Bill. I assure the hon. Member for Torridge and Devon, West (Sir P. Mills) that there is a considerable difference of opinion between hon. Members on the contents and objectives of the Bill, and its practicality. I freely confess that I bring a different approach to the debate from that put forward by the hon. Member for Torridge and Devon, West. I have no vested interest to declare or advance. My interest is that of one who represent the individuals in my constituency—
§ Sir Peter Mills
I accept the hon. Gentleman's point of view, but do we not both have a common interest in that we are consumers and have consumers in our constituencies who are concerned about the food that they eat?
§ Mr. Davies
I accept the hon. Gentleman's point and I am sure that if he stays for the rest of the debate he will hear the rest of my argument.
There is a body of opinion, which certainly exists in my constituency, that looks at the legislation from a different point of view from that which has been put forward tonight. We can identify several principles that should direct our thinking on the subject. First, when we consider the use of pesticides in the countryside, we must recognise that we expect the countryside to produce our food. However, we also expect it to be a safe place for those who work there and for those who enjoy recreation there. I think that we would all agree on that. But that principle has not been advanced or safeguarded in the Bill.
Secondly, I think that we would all agree that we must have a heritage to leave to our children and our grandchildren, a heritage that is safe and of which we can be proud. The Bill falls short in several regards on that principle.
Thirdly, we should have an informed public. If there is to be a public debate, and if people are to examine the issues raised by the hon. Member for Torridge and Devon, West, who has now left the Chamber, they should do so on the basis of choice. Choices can be made only when people are aware and informed of the details and of the effects of pesticides that are to be used.
Fourthly, there is a principle that has been highlighted most graphically in my constituency as a result of recent international events. We should be aware of the trading relationship between our country and the Third world and of the effects of technology on developing practices in the Third world. Unfortunately, the Bill falls short in this regard as well.
Within that general framework, there are particular points of concern. The hon. Member for Torridge and Devon, West spoke about the plus side of pesticides, and we would all accept his argument that pesticides are useful. We want them to be used and we recognise that they are an important part of the productive use of our land for food. However, a difference of opinion arises when we say that we are opposed to the indiscriminate use of pesticides. Pesticides are all right, but not when they are used in the wrong place, or at the wrong time, or when the wrong pesticides are used or used indiscriminately and allowed to affect not only other crops but our natural environment, animals, pets, workers and a whole range of other people. In those circumstances, pesticides are not 824 acceptable. In that respect, I have considerable reservations about the Bill. We are all aware of the potentially lethal effects of pesticides on the general environment.
I was surprised to learn of the effects of these pesticides, and I was concerned to understand the scale of usage of pesticides in Britain in 1984. Figures I have received from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food indicate that last year 1,000 million gallons of pesticides were sprayed on to our countryside. That is a horrific figure, particularly when one considers the effect of those pesticides not only on the specific pests at which they are directed but on the whole range of the natural environment outwith the specific pests.
§ Mr. John Carlisle
With regard to the figure quoted by the hon. Gentleman, I think he must mean that the spray was put on with water, and that it was not neat pesticide, as he hinted by his comment. I think that he will find that water was included.
§ Mr. Davies
The figure of 1,000 million gallons clearly implies that there is an element of dilution. I suggest that the hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle) has a word with his hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, North (Mr. Skeet) and asks him whether he is content to be sprayed by a dilution of pesticide.
I wish to deal next with the effect of the pesticides and insecticides on the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food approved list of 1983. Eighty-eight per cent. of those insecticides were dangerous or harmful to fish; 46 per cent. were dangerous or harmful to bees; 43 per cent. were dangerous or harmful to livestock; 42 per cent. were dangerous or harmful to wildlife and game. It may well be that the hon. Member for Luton, North is content to condone a situation in which 1,000 million gallons of pesticides are sprayed on to the countryside, knowing the lethal impact that this can have on the whole of the natural environment.
It may well be that the hon. Gentleman, who shakes his head, says that that does not apply because pesticides are used in controlled conditions, at the appropriate time, on the appropriate crops, in the right conditions and using the right equipment, but I must tell the hon. Gentleman that that is not true. All the evidence that has been produced and all the material, which I am sure will have been sent to the hon. Gentleman as it was to me and to other hon. Members, indicates that that is not the case and that a great deal of damage is being done, not necessarily deliberately and wantonly, but carelessly, to the natural environment.
I believe that there is a direct responsibility on Government and on the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, if they are to codify the practices and the procedures under which these pesticides are to be used, at least to ensure that proper safeguards are built in. In my view, that requirement is not being met.
I recognise the pressures on the farming community. I believe that those pressures stem from the Ministry of Agriculture, from the common agricultural policy and from the consumer, all of whom wish to see more food produced at prices lower than last year's prices. I recognise the work done by the agricultural community in that respect. However, I also recognise the pressure brought on it by the chemical industry, whose representatives go round from farm to farm extolling the virtues of particular pesticides and urging greater and more frequent application of those pesticides.
825 I refer the Minister to the agriculture and pollution report of the Royal Commission on Environment Protection, 1979:We think that there should be a considerably more questioning attitude than is now apparent, especially in the government departments concerned, to the scale of pesticides usage and we believe that this should be exemplified by a declared policy aim to reduce usuage to a minimum consistent with effecient food production. We have been told by some farmers that they feel themselves to be on a 'treadmill' with regard to pesticides usage—compelled by circumstances to depend on chemicals to an extent which they, as countrymen, intuitively find disturbing".Those are the real economic pressures that I understand and that I am sure all hon. Members understand.
When legislating, we must be aware of the overall impact of Government policy. If there are dangers and discrepancies in the way in which our declared policies are operated, surely we must be prepared to build safeguards into the legislation.
The Minister made a reference to the impact of aerial spraying. I am not sure whether this was the intention of the Minister, but the implication was that aerial spraying was more or less a thing of the past, and that we need not be too concerned about it or about indiscriminate spraying.
I tabled a question to the Secretary of State for Transport who, under the rules of this strange place, has responsibility for the distribution of pesticides by air. In his reply, the Secretary of State stated that, whereas in 1981 295,000 hectares were sprayed by air, in 1982—the last year for which figures were available—a total of 360,000 hectares was sprayed by air. That concerns me particularly because I have seen the impact of aerial spraying on Forestry Commission land near my home. I know that the impact of a specific herbicide is not confined to the specific target species, but that almost an entire ecosystem is wiped out. In addition, the Minister informed me that some 5.3 million hectares of crops and grass were treated with pesticides once or more often in 1982. That is the scale of the problem.
The response from the Government earlier today surprised me. They said that they cannot lay draft regulations, and I understand some of the reservations of the Government about laying such draft regulations. In effect, the Government said very much what I was told in reply to a written question on 29 November 1984. I asked the Minister:if he will make a statement on the proposals in the Food and Environment Protection Bill [Lords] to control advertising of pesticides.The Minister replied:The powers afforded by clause 15(1)(c) would be sufficiently wide to permit Ministers to control the advertising of pesticides if they considered it necessary." — [Official Report, 29 November 1984; Vol. 68, c. 589.]That sums up my criticism of the legislation. This is an enabling Bill and, whatever questions we put to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the Ministry of Transport and other Departments, the answer is that the powers are in the Bill. When the Minister has been challenged on the detailed regulations, the reply has been, rather like producing a rabbit out of a hat, that they now have a statement of intent.
I have had a half an hour or so to consider the statement of intent, and I must tell the Minister that it does not satisfy my criticisms; in fact, it raises more questions than it answers. Paragraph 9(c) of the statement of intent statesthat the pesticide be applied within minimum and maximum dilution rates in terms of concentrate per volume".826 Frankly, I had hoped that the Minister would be considering new research in terms of technology and methods of applying pesticides. I hoped that, in producing the statement of intent, the Minister would include a provision to the effect that the Government would take all necessary steps to ensure that pesticide use was by the controlled droplet application system. Paragraph 13 of the statement of intent states:Regulations would prohibit the aerial spraying of all pesticides".It qualified that rather blunt statement by sayingexcept those specifically approved for application from the air.What are we to believe'? What credibility can the Government have when they say on the one hand that they will ban aerial spraying of all pesticides and on the other hand that they will grant specific approval? Such an approach is not good enough, particularly as the matter will be debated in detail in Committee. Neither the Minister, supporters of the legislation, lukewarm supporters of the legislation nor opponents of the legislation will have the faintest idea of how it will be applied in practice.
I take issue with the Minister on two points to which I hope he will reply. The last sentence of paragraph 16 states:Record-Keepers would be required to make these records available to Ministers or their authorised officers when requested.That refers to the set of regulations on pesticides and their use.
Does the Minister realise that people other than Ministers and their authorised officers are worried about the effect of pesticides? Farmers might be interested in the information. Agriculture workers will be interested and will want to know the effect of the pesticides if they accidentally receive a faceful when the wind changes. Environmental groups will want to know the impact of the pesticides when they are used indiscriminately in the countryside. Many people clamour to know what is happening to our environment. The Minister might say that the information should be kept private and secret and that it should be known only to Ministers. If she does that she will fly in the face of the major environmental development of the last 20 years.
§ Mr. John Carlisle
Does not the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) realise that the explanatory leaflets provided with all the major agricultural chemicals contain information about what to do in the case of accident and what antidotes should be administered? The hon. Gentleman paints an exaggerated picture.
§ Mr. Davies
I accept that. I am encouraged that the advice that the hon. Member would give to an agriculture worker who was sprayed accidentally by a pesticide would be to go to the nearest stream and wash it off. Frankly, that is not good enough. That is the palliative suggested to the person who is affected by pesticides. The point at issue is not the necessary remedial action, but the knowledge about a particular pesticide. If the information is available, if the result of research and the impact of a pesticide on humans, animals and plants is known, it should be made available to the public.
The second point on which I take issue with the Minister involves disclosure in the wider sense. Paragraph 17 of the statement of intent states:The Regulations would provide for the public disclosure of information obtained by Ministers under the powers described in 827 paragraphs 4 and 16 (a) — (c); information which would prejudice the commercial interests of those supplying it would be withheld.The Government say that they will provide the information, but they say that they will decide what information they wish to withhold. The statement continues:The degree of disclosure would be a matter for consultation with all interests involved".The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will have a cosy discussion with representatives of the agriculture chemical industry, the National Farmers Union and others who are directly involved and will neglect to tell any other interested party the information required. Perhaps Government supporters are happy to continue to support legislation which does that, but I believe that if something is good enough for the Americans it is good enough for us. If it is good enough for the Americans to have freedom of information legislation, it is good enough for us. I refer the House to the code of practice in the United States. Last week I received a letter from the Campaign for Freedom of Information which stated:The United States Federal Insecticide Fungicide and Rodenticide Act requires full disclosure by the environmental protection agency of safety data submitted by manufacturers, but, for a fixed period, allows only the manufacturer who originally produced the data to make use of it in support of pesticide registration applications.We realise that commercial interests exist. We accept that research is necessary and that there must be reinvestment, profit and the protection of commercial secrets. However, a limit must be drawn on the extent to which commercial secrets are allowed to affect the proper interests of those directly involved in the use of pesticides and their impact on the wider community.
By accident I came upon another quotation today. I came across it just after the Minister had told me not to worry about the details because everything would be in the regulations and that everything would be all right on the night. The quotation goes back to 1838 when Benjamin Disraeli said:all power is a trust—that we are accountable for its exercise—that, from the people, and for the people, all springs, and all must exist.If the Minister and her colleagues want the support of the House and an endorsement of their proposals if they want the House to allow them the power to use the regulations, they must tell us what they propose in the regulations. So far they have been singularly silent.
My last argument is about the Third world. Some hon. Members have taken the view that if someone wants to buy a product it is OK to sell it to them. It is a shocking indictment of the chemical industry's relationship with the Government, and of the Government themselves, that they are prepared to sell overseas products that are prohibited in the United Kingdom because they are known to be dangerous and because we know the adverse impact that they will have on our agriculture systems and environment. In view of the human and environmental disasters of recent years and of the knowledge that we have of the impact of western technology on underdeveloped agricultural communities, we should not agree to use underdeveloped countries as a dumping ground for products that are considered unsuitable for use here.
The legislation was prompted by actions in 1981, which resulted in a cartel being broken. The Government said 828 that they did not want imports that would undermine our chemical industry and could not be controlled. Now they have the opportunity to prevent the export of undesirable materials and they are running away from the question. That is a matter of prime concern.
Some useful debates took place in the House of Lords. Lord Mackie summed up the argument about the export of pesticides when he said:However, we really cannot export dangerous chemicals to third-world countries which people do not know how to use and excuse that by saying that others will do so if we do not. It is rather like the old argument in the cartoon—which I always admired—of the two executioners, torturers, with their black masks, their execution axes, and so on, talking to each other at an idle moment. One of them is saying to the other, 'The way I see it, if we don't do it, someone else will!' I do not think that that is a good policy for a highly moral Government trying to help the third world." — [Official Report, House of Lords, 22 November 1984; Vol. 457, c. 728]There are very many reservations about this Bill; that is one of them. I certainly hope that the Bill will be improved in Committee.
§ Sir John Wells (Maidstone)
I apologise to the House for having come in only moments ago. As hon. Members will know, I was here earlier. I am sure that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and hon. Members will appreciate that, as I am in the Chair of the Committee dealing with the Transport Bill, I can come in for only a short time during the dinner break.
I want to follow for a moment the speech of the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies), because I think that he has got wrong the attitude of the chemical manufacturers in this country to the Third world. I believe that the British chemical industry takes an extremely responsible view, and when the hon. Gentleman reads what he said he may regret the criticisms that he made.
The point that is frequently misunderstood is that the chemical manufacturers formulate and manufacture in this country many items that are used on crops to control unpleasant things that mercifully do not exist in this country. In a question in the Indian Parliament in August last year, it was suggested that certain items of a DDT nature ought to be banned in India. The Indian Government made it abundantly clear that that was quite impossible if their malaria eradication programme and other similar programmes were to go forward. So, although we may not use in this country some of the chemicals that we make, their export to the Third world, provided the Third world Governments approve and their professional advisers know what is being done, is totally honourable.
§ Sir John Wells
I am sorry. I want to be very brief, and the hon. Gentleman did speak at great length.
ICI Plant Protection at Yalding is the biggest employer in my constituency which has a very large horticultural presence. Therefore, this is a very important debate for my part of Kent. What concerns me particularly is a fear that we may be too liberal about import restrictions and rules and too tight about export restrictions. Lord Belstead in another place indicated that the present informal arrangements, under which MAFF gives quick clearance to farmers' direct imports, will be incorporated in the regulations. I apologise to my hon. Friend if he repeated that, but I did not hear his speech.
829 Individual farmers, particularly in my part of the country, where the continent of Europe is only a few miles away, are experienced men. They have friends on the continent of Europe and they can go shopping and know what they are bringing back. Provided the products that they bring back are labelled in English and their workers understand and follow the safety regulations, that is fine. I am far more concerned about the indication, as I understand Lord Belstead's words, that there may be a large quantity procedure for merchants bringing in such items, provided the safety regulations are formulated in English. But these items of chemical manufacture may well not come from Europe. They could come from anywhere — even the Third world—and some of the formulation may be extremely doubtful.
I am therefore most anxious about any liberalising of imports, unless we look at the matter very closely indeed. Provided imports are guaranteed to be of the same quality and have the same protection instructions for the workers, I do not think that that is a bad thing, but I must emphasise the importance of quality.
I turn now to the question of confidentiality and the right to know, to which the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) referred in passing. Within the United States there seems to be total freedom of information. At first sight, that is very praiseworthy, but the patents are steadily running out and, once they run out, the whole world will have not only freedom of information but freedom to copy. Unless a manufacturer is protected for a few years, expenditure on research and development will be reduced. That is something that I fear very much. Other hon. Members have already pointed out the vast contribution that this industry makes to the well-being of agriculture throughout the world. Unless research and development are protected, the ultimate consumer, particularly the consumer in the Third world, will be at risk.
The hon. Member for Workington spoke about the possibility of a ban on aerial spraying. I must declare to the House that Headcorn airstrip, in my constituency, houses one of the most efficient aerial spraying units in this country. That firm is spraying not only in the United Kingdom but world wide. Its pilots go all over the world. If British pilots are unable to qualify and gain experience, not only will we lose a valuable export, but the Third world will lose the services of British pilots, who are extremely skilled and experienced and responsible in the use of chemicals. Before we get over-excited about any safeguard proposals, therefore, we need to look at the overall pattern.
It is important that we consider enforcement. As I understand it, it is proposed that there should be 16 or 18 people to carry out enforcement. That seems to me to be nonsense. I believe that Her Majesty's Government have gone over the top in listening to the EEC style of debate with demands that voluntary control is unacceptable. The Minister and I know that at least one City livery company is providing policing in an important sector of another industry that comes under his umbrella. He will know that the Salters Company—and I have no authority from that company or from any of its officers to make this remark—makes a great contribution to the well-being of the chemical industry.
Surely an absolutely impartial organisation, such as a City livery company, could have taken its place in the British agrochemical supply and industry scheme which, 830 after all, has brought in tremendous control. I believe that other hon. Members have spoken about that already. The Minister is aware of what has been done. Can we not break out of that European mould and realise that the British style of voluntary policing of schemes like this can work very well?
§ Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth)
I was glad to have the reassurance of the hon. Member for Maidstone (Sir J. Wells) that the British chemical industry behaves responsibly abroad. It if behaves responsibly abroad—I have no evidence to suggest otherwise—I should dearly like to know which chemical industries do not, because there is ground for real misgiving that some practices by OECD member states in the Third world leave a great deal to be desired. That leads me to the fear that, as we have a development of trade and a more liberal trading arrangement, and as the Third world becomes ever more depressed, perhaps as a result of American economic policy, those irresponsible chemical industries may wish to come here.
I should like to refer to the final point that the hon. Member for Maidstone made. Whether we have an adequate involvement of skilled and competent voluntary agencies or not, and whether the provisions and plans of Her Majesty's Government provide for a proper public monitoring of such matters, which are vital, I have reason for very real anxiety about the future.
That anxiety was not relieved by the Minister of State's speech. He is an experienced and able occupant of the Treasury Bench. He must have known that there is concern on both sides of the House, perhaps more among Opposition Members. I was deeply distressed by the absence of the alliance Members, who claim to have an interest in these matters. If they had been here, they would have shared my anxieties about the Minister's speech. As I said, the hon. Gentleman is able and experienced, and must have expected the House to require rather more than high-minded commitments to high standards. Throughout his speech he kept telling us that the Bill was evidence of the Government's commitment to high standards and environmental decency. Then he passed the buck to the Parliamentary Secretary who, again, is an able and experienced Minister. He left her to reply at the end of the debate knowing that he had not given the House any detail. I suspect that the hon. Lady will not give us any either.
It is not good enough for the Minister to say that the Government have grasped the common thread that runs through serious problems and accepted the broad principles and commitments, but will refer to the detail in Committee. I do not know whether I shall be on the Committee, but, while it may take the same view that I take and say that it wants much detail, the Minister might avoid giving that detail if he can. It is not good enough. There is so much anxiety about modern chemicals in our society that the Government have an obligation to provide the House with information so that the House and the country are assured that regulations to protect the public interest exist.
It is interesting that in the debate two Conservative Members, who have been criticised mildly by their colleagues, spoke of their anxieties about the effect of aerial spraying on their gardens. The obvious answer is for them to invite their hon. Friends to go and sit in their gardens while the aerial spraying is proceeding. That 831 might be a sufficient reason for me to begin to look more kindly on aerial spraying. However, the fact remains that two experienced hon. Members expressed their anxiety, which is shared by hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens. The fact that that anxiety exists justifies the call for more information to be provided. I hope that when the Parliamentary Secretary winds up the House will be given some meat instead of merely the prospect of a little bone.
The risks are very serious. For example, I recall taking part in a debate in the Council of Europe only a little while ago, when I said to the OECD that there is an urgent necessity for adequate international conventions to cover the use of chemicals within the environment. I believe that the OECD would welcome the opportunity to take a leading role in that development. I trust that if the Government are so committed to high standards and are embracing the principles to which the Minister referred, we shall see a vigorous pursuit of that approach.
However, I have anxieties, because I recognise that the Government have been very laissez-faire in their commercial policies. I recognise that the South Yorkshire county council that they are about to abolish had to spend three years demonstrating that we were importing dangerous household electrical appliances, but it was difficult to get the Government to take any interest. I recognise that when the British hand tool industry was being destroyed by unfair competition, and when it won cases abroad by demonstrating that there was counterfeiting practice, the Government would not do anything about it. I have real fears that, when those irresponsible chemical industries—we have established that there are some—find that, because of world economic recession, their markets in the Third world or in other countries that are wiser than ourselves are contracting, they will see a more glistening opportunity in the United Kingdom. The present Government's record will compound the anxieties that are already expressed.
I am not in any way a Luddite about the environment. I am concerned about it. I share the view expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John) that there can be no yearning for a rural setting of idyllic value in which man starved, and became brutalised. However, at the same time, millions of our fellow citizens believe that the creation of a sterile landscape in a society with enormous farm surpluses and an environment in which man is utterly dispirited is not acceptable either.
Therefore, I welcome the Government's action if it is to make sure that the Bill is not merely a convenient whitewash that will satisfy our European partners, present no hindrance to the irresponsible and merely allow some liberal trade in poison that could be internationally and nationally disadvantageous. I hope that we can have an adequate assurance in the wind-up speech and sufficient information in Committee to provide us with some satisfaction.
I made an intervention in the Minister's speech about the nature of the advisory committee. There will have to be not merely the voluntary involvement of guild companies in monitoring but adequate contact and dialogue with the environmental organisations. I serve on the council of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. As the Minister knows, it is a substantial organisation. It has people of high quality and worth within its employment. I hope that that body, perhaps the 832 largest of the environmental organisations in Britain, will have adequate involvement in and representation on any committee that is established.
The Agricultural Engineers Association has expressed the view that the pesticides safety precautions scheme clearance arrangements are themselves insufficient. I looked at the documents that I received from that body. As the Minister will appreciate, we have received an enormous weight of briefing material. Looking at that body's evidence—it is not an organisation with which I have had previous contact—I believe that such people should also be involved so that a balance can be achieved in the advice that the Minister receives. The manufacturing industry must not have the dominant voice. The view of the Public Health and Industrial Pesticides Council seemed very valuable. The National Society for Clean Air also has a legitimate view to express. Such organisations should be assured that their opinions and qualifications will be recognised.
I believe that we have an international role to play. If we are to play that role, we must establish adequate protection within these islands. In spite of the Minister's high-minded commitment to decency, which was not supported by any factual content, my anxieties remain. However, I maintain the hope that there will be a bipartisan approach, which my hon. Friend suggested was possible.
§ Mr. John Carlisle (Luton, North)
I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy), whose views on the environment are well known and well respected in this House. Many hon. Members have listened in the past to his speeches with great interest. The points he has put before the House today are worthy of attention.
I have to declare an interest, as I have worked in agriculture virtually all my life, but more actively before I was elected a Member of Parliament. I was involved for a time in the sale of spray chemicals to farmers. Before BASIS was set up and when spray chemicals were first used in large quantities upon farms, the sale of those chemicals and the advice that was given to farmers was somewhat haphazard. Therefore, the new voluntary schemes and this Bill, which will, I hope, become an Act, are to be welcomed.
The industry has been concerned for some time about the fact that a rather haphazard attitude towards chemicals is still prevalent in certain tiny sectors of the farming community. It is to the great credit of the Government that they have introduced this Bill. It is also to the great credit of the Opposition parties that they support it. It is interesting that there was virtually no dissension about the Bill in the other place, even though various amendments were moved with great aplomb and interest by its Members. There has also been very little dissension on the Floor of the House this evening. Therefore, I hope that the Bill will have a fair wind.
We are all concerned about this problem, but I am worried that certain lobbies may jump upon this Bill as a vehicle to put forwards their own exaggerated views. I am sorry that the hon. Members for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) and for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) are not present to hear my remarks, although I hope they will read them in the morning in the Official Report.
833 There is a danger that the anti-farming lobby and the Friends of the Earth, although I do not place those two bodies on the same level, and certain "green" movements which have been described in the past have painted a somewhat exaggerated picture of the spraying of chemicals on farmland. If in Committee amendments and new clauses are put forward by these groups, without any real knowledge of what takes place on farms and of the responsible attitude shown by farmers, the trade, manufacturers and those who advise them it will be a great shame. I hope that the Committee will resist any such attempts. The hon. Member for Workington made some exaggerated claims which he should back up in Committee. I say the same to the hon. Member for Caerphilly. Nevertheless, I do not doubt their good intentions in putting forward their views.
We are all agreed that full safeguards must be provided for some of the very expensive and dangerous chemicals that are being used by farmers. It is to the credit of the industry that there have been very few accidents. Nevertheless, one must not forget that accidents have occurred and that some accidents have not been officially reported. My hon. Friends the Members for Bedfordshire, North (Mr. Skeet) and for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) gave graphic descriptions of how they have been affected by spray drift. In no way would the House denigrate what my hon. Friends have said or diminish the force of their argument. However, it must be set in the context of the marvellous safety record that the industry has enjoyed during the last few years.
I am concerned that, because of the somewhat restrictive nature of the Bill, we might begin to devalue the great contribution that pesticides and herbicides and fungicides, which are not mentioned in the same context, have made to agriculture. The agricultural revolution of the last decade had been largely due to the careful and selective use of chemicals. The massive yields of corn and vegetables that we now enjoy and the fact that we have weed-free fields and pest-free vegetables are due to the research and development that has taken place in the chemical industry. It has been of great value to agriculture and should never be devalued by the House during its discussion of the Bill.
We must also never forget the great value of pesticides and herbicides to the Third world. Many Third world countries, which are in dire need of food and better agricultual practices, would be in an even worse position if it were not for the availability of chemicals, many of which have been manufactured and developed in this country. One has only to look at the extent of the maize crop in the African continent to understand that if the locust pest had not been controlled by chemicals, mainly from the air, the yield from those crops throughout the continent would have been disastrous.
The House would also be well advised to remember the value to our export trade of these chemicals, in particular chemicals for use in agriculture. We export each year chemicals to the value of £360 million. The amount of employment that is generated within the chemical industry, particularly in terms of agricultural chemicals, is very great. At present, 7,268 people are employed in the industry. If I have any misgivings about the Bill, they are that if restrictive clauses or amendments are made to it the chemical industry may suffer and unemployment may follow.
834 As my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Sir J. Wells) said, during the last 25 or 27 years we have had the advantage of the voluntary pesticides safety precautions scheme, which has an advisory committee. Farmers have been advised by that committee. As a result, the number of accidents has been minimal and the misuse of chemicals has been very small. In addition to that scheme, the system known as BASIS was introduced in 1978. It was inaugurated by the United Kingdom Agricultural Supply Trade Association—a merchants' organisation. My hon. Friend the Minister of State has already mentioned that UKASTA made representations to him that BASIS should be continued. I believe that he will be sympathetic towards that argument. There is no doubt that BASIS has been a great success. It has meant that merchant representatives and others who sell chemicals have gained far greater knowledge, that the storage of chemicals has been made much safer and that the transportation of chemicals has been improved because the various problems that surround their transportation have been reduced.
I ask my hon. Friend to consider whether the amount of voluntary assistance that BASIS has given to the chemical industry is dealt with in the Bill. The hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John) made that suggestion. I believe that it would attract a great deal of support from both sides of the House. The advantage of monitoring and administration by BASIS is that it would cost the Ministry nothing. I bear in mind what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone that any new appointments which have to be made will inevitably cost money. When a system is working satisfactorily on a voluntary basis, I believe that it is important for the House and the Ministry to look very carefully at that system.
Certain questions remain to be dealt with, and in the few minutes that remain to me I should like to air them. This is an enabling Bill. Some disappointment has been expressed this evening on both sides of the House, and in another place, at the fact that the regulations have not been put forward. We are debating half in the dark because we do not know what regulations will be put forward and which chemicals will be recommended. I have great faith in the Ministry, my hon. Friend the Minister and his team, and I am sure that he has taken that point on board. If any way could be found to introduce the regulations in Committee, it would be of great value to the members of the Committee, and would allay many of the fears that have been expressed this evening.
I hope that the Bill will retain its flexibility. I was encouraged by my noble Friend Lord Belstead when he said that the Bill was not meant to restrain trade. We want as little compulsion in the Bill and the regulations as possible.
I am also interested in chemicals from abroad being available. In the past we have been a little worried about some of the material that has come in under the description "black drum material". The fact that some of the instructions on that material have not been in English has been mentioned. The PSPS has worked well with those chemicals, and the new regulations will be much tighter. Those chemicals should be available if farmers and growers wish to use them. Provided that they satisfy the regulations which will follow the Bill, I hope that those markets will be available for the agents who wish to import such material.
I am worried that the smaller manufacturer might find himself at some disadvantage against the larger 835 manufacturer when the Bill becomes law. The House will be aware that most agricultural chemicals are manufactured by the large companies. Manufacturers should be able to introduce chemicals to the market with the protection and safeguards that the Bill provides.
Many chemicals and many of the solutions to the problems posed by weeds and pests are stumbled upon by accident. Plant Protection, part of ICI has been mentioned. I believe that even the chemical gramoxone, which has probably completely revolutionised cereal farming over the past few years, was stumbled upon by accident. Small manufacturers can develop chemicals, and I hope that the Bill will not stifle their endeavours.
I should like my hon. Friend the Minister to deal with the disposal of stocks. When the Bill becomes law, some fairly large stocks of chemicals may have to be withdrawn. I hope that some phasing out will be available, or a fair warning given to stockholders who have goods which they will find impossible to sell.
It is imperative to emphasise the educational part of the Bill. Storekeepers should understand the complexity and dangers of the chemicals that they handle. The advice given to them must be sound and based upon manufacturers' experience, research and development.
The transportation of the chemicals must be regulated; and it is most important that all operators should have full training. One of the great advantages and successes of BASIS is that operators have been brought into the scheme and educated. That is an essential part of the operation.
§ Mr. Carlisle
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He mentioned that point in his speech. I go a little further. The anxiety that UKASTA is showing about BASIS is that if the regulations become law, as we all hope they will, the scheme will collapse. There are already signs that people are leaving BASIS. UKASTA must do some hard talking to my hon. Friend the Minister to work out how BASIS can be kept going.
The Bill does not mention seed. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will know that there is a fairly large industry involving seed, 10 per cent. of which has been chemically treated. In Committee, some provision must be made for the import and export of such seed.
I hope that the officials who will monitor the scheme will have a great deal of knowledge, and that no cost or time will be spared in ensuring that the official investigators know the problems that they and farmers will face over the years.
This is a first class Bill. It deserves support from both sides of the House. Its success will depend upon the co-operation of farmers, growers, the trade and manufacturers. On the Floor of the House and in another place, we have seen and heard that that co-operation will be forthcoming. Therefore, I wish the Bill a fair wind.
§ Mr. Ken Eastham (Manchester, Blackley)
It is rather unusual for me to join in a debate on agriculture because I do not represent an agricultural area. I represent a highly 836 industrialised city. However, whenever Bills that mention food are presented to me I take an interest so that I can air one or two points that are dear to me.
The Bill is called the Food and Environment Protection Bill. We all recognise that there is a need for it. It is not contentious, although hon. Members on both sides of the House have spoken of their misgivings and reservations and of what they would like added in Committee.
I recognise — I am sure that we all do— that the production of feed is essential to the health of the community. None of us is so foolish as to wish to inhibit or restrict good legislation. The Minister mentioned many of the hazards. Hazardous materials are becoming common. Pollution is causing great anxiety.
There have been one or two hiccups in some of the chemical factories in Manchester. Explosions have justifiably worried residents. Contamination floating over industrial areas can ultimately pass to agricultural areas. We recognise that the Minister needs the legislation.
The Bhopal disaster, involving methylisocyanate, was a salutary lesson for everyone and should make us doubly determined to see that such accidents do not happen again. Nevertheless, we must prepare ourselves. If anything should go wrong, there should be protection to ensure that people are safe.
Occasionally there have been one or two close calls. We all recognise that industrial chemicals can cause mishaps. Because of the possibility of major incidents, extreme caution must be exercised by the Ministry.
I am not an authority on pesticides, but I am sure that the Minister recognises that the general public are increasingly worried about the addition of chemicals and fear that far too many chemicals are used in crop management. I am sympathetic to that view, although a chemical company operates in my constituency, and I am obviously interested in its success. I am sure that it operates responsibly. It provides valuable opportunities for my constituents. The company must, however, face up to its responsibilities and be accountable. I am sure that the main chemical companies operate from that standpoint.
I have reservations about the Bill, especially clause 1, which gives powers to Ministers. On seeing such references in documents we think of delays. In too many crises, red tape and the transmission of information from remote areas to Westminster lose valuable time. That is not in the interests of quick decisions and remedies.
The Minister said that local government officers may carry out certain functions, but I have strong reservations about that. We need new administrative machinery to deal with these matters. I have an interest in the Institution of Environmental Health Officers. For a number of years I have been active as an honorary vice-president of that association and have referred to the problems confronted by environmental health officers. Those officers have high skills and great expertise. It is sad to realise that they lack statutory powers.
Only a few months ago I asked questions about the handling of food. I always register an interest when I look at the titles of Bills. On seeing the title "Food and Environment Protection Bill," I wondered why the various Departments did not get their act together to inspect food. I asked about salmonella poisoning which has occurred in geriatric hospitals throughout the country. Too many people have died from salmonella poisoning.
837 My questions about the handling of food were referred to various Departments—a question about hospitals was referred to the Department of Health and a question about the handling of food in prisons and remand centres was referred to the Home Office. On every occasion on which I asked whether it was possible for environmental health officers visiting the establishments to have statutory rights to inspect food, I was told that it was not possible. Governments seem to be hiding behind Crown immunity. The various Departments replied saying that medical officers or governors of prisons and remand centres can invite environmental health officers to inspect food, but I am dissatisfied with that. I believe that environmental health officers can provide a valuable service in protecting health and giving advice.
I hope that one day the various responsible Ministers will get their act together to deal with pesticides and other chemicals and ensure the safe handling of food. That matter is as important as the other aspects that we have debated. Environmental health officers should have extra powers making it unnecessary for them to have to be invited to inspect premises. They should have the right to deal with the contamination of food.
I believe that there is no difference between poisons in crops and poisons in the food that arrives on our plates. Environmental health officers working for the environmental health authorities, and indirectly for the Government, should be given more responsibilities and rights. Because the Government wish to cut expenditure, they are not keen to accept applications by local authorities to increase the number of environmental health officers in their service. The additional expenditure incurred in regulating the handling of food is an important consideration. I am sure that the environmental health officers would appreciate a comprehensive review, but I do not expect the Parliamentary Secretary to give us a positive assurance that that will occur. I am sure that the nation will be healthier and that there will be fewer deaths in our geriatric hospitals from salmonella poisoning if Ministers recognise the importance of food hygiene.
Unfortunately, the various Departments involved do not co-ordinate in using vital services. I do not understand why the Department of the Environment, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the Home Office and the NHS cannot get on the same wavelength and provide protection in relation to the handling of food.
§ Sir John Farr (Harborough)
I join hon. Members on both sides of the House who have welcomed the Bill. We are glad to receive it from the other place. I am sorry that some Opposition Members have not spoken well of pesticide manufacturers and users. It is all very well for the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) and the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) to advocate the banning of aerial spraying or the introduction of a new penal code of conduct. The only result would be that their constituents would ask them why the price of foodstuffs had increased so much. Unless normal economical farm spraying, under strictly controlled conditions, is allowed to continue, the cost of food which the housewife has to buy will increase.
I was particularly interested in the Bill because I was one of the few Members on either side of the House who did not think it was necessary. I have followed the records of farm accidents involving machinery and chemicals and 838 all the other incidents which affect agricultural life. Over the years, the one scheme that has worked well is the voluntary scheme which has been in operation for 27 years and which the Bill seeks to abolish.
I cannot easily accept the abolition of an excellent scheme without a better reason than has been given for the Bill. I listened very closely to the excellent speech of the Minister of State, and I do not think he gave a meaningful reason for proceeding with the Bill. I do not regard the present voluntary control system for the use of agricultural chemicals as anything but excellent and first class. We have a record of safety and safe conduct unparalleled in modern chemical history.
I cannot understand why we must proceed apace with the Bill when so many other problems concern our electors, such as the Auld report on shop hours and the Errol report on licensing hours. Although this is a helpful and useful little Bill, I cannot understand why it is being pushed through at this stage in the life of this Parliament, instead of continuing with an excellent voluntary scheme which no one can say has fallen down in any way.
§ Mr. John
I am following the hon. Gentleman in his references to the voluntary scheme. There are at least two voluntary schemes involved in the Bill. One is BASIS in regard to the application of chemicals and the other is the pesticides safety precautions scheme. As I understand it, the Bill is necessary because imported chemicals made the voluntary scheme break down. That is why the Government have been forced to reconsider the voluntary code.
§ Sir John Farr
As always, the intervention by the hon. Gentleman is helpful and very much to the point. That was not my understanding. Perhaps I am wrong. No doubt the hon. Gentleman will be on the Standing Committee and will have an opportunity to pursue that point.
I was not aware that the voluntary scheme was not coping adequately as of today. There may be problems ahead. One cannot say for certain that that will not be the case, but the voluntary PSPS and the other legislation which impinges upon the manufacture, sale and use of pesticides have for 27 years given the country a level of protection for man, animals and environment which is second to none.
One used to read of unfortunate accidents when a deadly mix of farm chemicals had by mistake been put in the wrong container, perhaps a lemonade bottle, and unfortunately drunk by a child who later died. That has happened from time to time, but fortunately that stupid practice has been more or less wiped out. I assure the House that there has been no call either from users or manufacturers for the elaborate new code of practice which will be incorporated in the Bill.
This is not a Bill without cost. It will be necessary to employ 34 inspectors to operate the new compulsory system. I hope that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will tell the House who will pay the extra cost It may be recouped by charges or by a levy on the pesticides as they are sold, but it is certain that eventually it is the consumer who will have to pay. The House should be given further details. I gather that the 34 inspectors in the new team will be employed by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and by the Health and Safety Executive in the Department of Employment.
The most contentious provisions of the Bill are in part III. As hon. Members on both sides have said, it is difficult 839 to debate such nebulous provisions. We must have some guidance on the form which orders will take, or we will be giving any Government a licence to print money. The House will eventually insist that there must be much more detail about the form of the orders.
Part III says that regulations will lay down how advisers, contractors, and users of agriculture chemicals, from the date of the coming into force of the regulations, should act safely in the use of pesticides. The use of certain products from the air may be prohibited. There will no doubt be a provision requiring protective clothing to be worn. Other matters which will probably be covered in regulations are the minimum dilution rate and a restriction on application by systems other than those agreed by Ministers to be safe and efficient for the purpose. There will be other restrictions in the regulations, but without having them in front of us it is difficult to have a sensible debate about them.
When the regulations are produced, they should provide that no pesticide will be sold in Britain without instructions relating to its use being in English. It does not need a complicated or high-powered committee to realise that most of us do not understand foreign languages. For the sake of the public, rules relating to the safe handling, disposal and use of these materials should not be in a language other than English.
I would also like the shelf life of the chemicals to be incorporated in the regulations. Some chemicals behave differently when they reach a certain age. Often, after 18 months or two years pesticides change dramatically. They can break down and become dangerous to handle. As with cartons of milk or cream, I would like the recommended shelf life to be included in the regulations when they are produced.
It is also important to consider the obligation of the farming community to comply with part I in relation to the contamination of food. Several of my hon. Friends have said that the Bill provides widespread powers to the Minister to order the destruction of foodstuffs in certain circumstances. When referring to part I, my hon. Friend the Minister said that those powers would be used only in serious emergencies. Of course, the House accepts that such steps must be taken in serious emergencies, but why are not the words "serious emergency" included in the Bill? I suggest to the Minister that those words be inserted in the Bill in Committee so that the provision is not left in its present vague form.
I endorse what was said about the need for the draft regulations to be discussed and debated. It is essential that all the organisations concerned with the production and use of chemicals on the land are consulted properly. For instance, some technical items that are not included in the Bill have been raised by the Agricultural Engineers Association, which supports the Bill. It wishes to make some detailed points about the sort of spraying equipment used. It fears that the regulations will be based on the more usual sorts of spraying equipment and that more sophisticated and less used equipment will not be considered. The association believes it important to have ministerial assurances that it is consulted before the regulations are finalised, because it is responsible for making up sprayers and pumping machinery.
The association, like Opposition Members—I agree with them — believes that it would be sensible for 840 operators to attend regular courses. They do not need instruction in the mechanics of operating a pump, but they need to know about scientific changes in chemicals. Although an operator may be familiar with every chemical in 1985, in 1990 it may be a different picture and he may be completely out of date.
With those few words, I support the Bill. It is not one of the most important measures of this Parliament, but during its passage it will receive my support.
§ Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)
I welcome the Bill, but I have reservations about several clauses. I hope that the Bill will be strengthened in some areas, but that task must be left to the detailed scrutiny of the Committee.
Part I deals with the need to tackle large-scale emergencies on land and at sea in as prompt and efficient a way as possible. That is a laudable objective, but I believe that local authorities should be featured on the face of the Bill. For example, the Shetland Islands council is deeply worried about the perennial threat of major oil spillages in and around Sullom Voe. Edinburgh is a long way from Sullom Voe, and I believe that authorities such as the Shetland Islands council should be involved in the scheme.
I shall concentrate on parts II and III and their attendant schedules. Few hon. Members have spoken about part II, but it is of enormous importance to all of us in these islands. I do not wish to be parochial, but I am talking only about Scotland and its islands. It is especially important to our fishermen. I relate my remarks to the fishing industry, marine pollution and the offshore oil industry. In some ways, the fishing industry and our fisheries are more important than oil production, because oil, whether it is used for fuel or for the development of protein, is finite, whereas fish—the British Isles are surrounded by what could be called fish-rich seas—is a renewable resource, if it is managed properly and is not too badly affected by marine pollution.
Paragraph 3.1 of the Rayner report on marine pollution stated, in a paragraph entitled "Scrutiny of fisheries research and development":The importance of dumping to the UK as a relatively cheap means of waste disposal is considerable.It also said:Our pre-eminent position in the dumping of industrial waste and sewage sludge puts us under severe and mounting international pressures; the onus is on the UK to justify its position.I have no doubt that Ministers will say that the Bill deals with that responsibility.
It is important to emphasise that oil pollution in the North sea and elsewhere is caused partly by shipping. I remind the House—Ministers may not need reminding of this — that collisions and founderings are only a small, if spectacular, part of such pollution. It has been estimated that founderings and collisions cause only about 25 per cent. of pollution. A much larger problem of marine pollution by oil arises from the deliberate flushing of oil tanks with sea water.
The Minister will no doubt say that there is legislation to deal with that. I agree, but it is not a particularly effective form of control and enforcement. The Economist stated on 11 February 1984:contrary to popular belief, shipping is not the main culprit in North Sea oil pollution. Land run-offs, eg, from the flushing of 841 used motor and industrial oils into drainage systems, generally contributes 65–75 per cent. of the oil in the sea. A paltry 1 per cent. comes from minor accidents on offshore oil rigs.Having referred to pollution caused by land-based industries, I must compliment the river purification boards for the marvellous work that they do. I live on the Clyde and I am thrilled to hear — I have not seen them for myself—that salmon are returning to the upper Clyde. That is a tribute to the Clyde river purification board and the way in which it has dealt with pollution in that river.
Other aspects of pollution of our seas were outlined in that article in The Economist. For example, it reported:There is no international agreement directly covering pollution in the whole of the North Sea. Instead, there is a welter of laws and conventions, national and international, designed to control specific problems. However, some are relatively permissive; others poorly enforced; yet others languishing for lack of ratification.I hope, because I welcome the Bill, that the proposals in part II will put right that driech state of affairs.
Pollution problems associated with oil exploration and production are of importance to the people of Scotland, particularly those who obtain their employment in the Scottish fishing industry. Oil can present many problems for fishermen. For example, oil-related pipes and other debris are sometimes washed up on beaches. The oil industry should accept responsibility for removing and disposing of such objects.
Damage is often done to fishing gear by oil-related debris. After an exploration rig has completed drilling, all debris should be removed by those directly involved in that exploration. Following a survey, a certificate should have to be obtained by those concerned stating that the area has been checked and is free of debris. Such a step would greatly help Scottish fishermen.
I could give various examples of the problems that we face north of the border. Recently, a large anchor and 1,000 feet of chain were picked up in Coalgrave sound by a tanker waiting to berth at Sullom Voe. People in Shetland believe that the anchor and chain were almost certainly lost—I cannot believe that they were discarded—from a vessel engaged in offshore construction. The tanker picked up that anchor and chain when lifting its own anchor.
I may be seen to be defending the fishermen—it is right that I should be seen doing that—but I admit that they are not entirely blameless in relation to marine pollution. For example, The Scotsman in an article on 27 January last said about fishermen:plastic pollution is killing millions of birds, fish, whales, seals and sea turtles, marine scientists report … Large pieces of plastic nets often break off, becoming what are called 'ghost nets' that present a continuous floating threat. Mr. Robert Day, an ornithologist at the University of Alaska in Fairbank, said seabirds often became entangled when they dived for trapped fish.I readily acknowledge that fishermen also have a part to play in reducing the pollution of our seas.
Monitoring is dealt with in clause 12. The Rayner report—I hasten to point out that it was published in 1982—said about monitoring:Monitoring arrangements are not uniform. Some sites receiving only limited categories of waste are not monitored at all while others, notably those receiving sewage sludge and liquid industrial waste, require a high level of effort. Because of staff shortages"—the hon. Member for Harborough (Sir. J. Farr) spoke of the numbers of staff monitoring the whole programme—the monitoring programme is well behind schedule as regards the assessment of data collected and the publication of reports.842 Have the recommendations in paragraph 3.47 of that report in relation to the need for additional staff been adopted by the Government?
I welcomed the Minister's remarks about exemptions, as provided for in clause 7. He spoke of static gear and the need to protect it. This is an important issue for many fishermen in Scotland, particularly those in the Western isles. Will the exemptions cover fish farmers who have put down sea cages in sea lochs and in the voes in Shetland? Will they also cover offshore exploration and research?
In considering part II of the Bill and the scuttling of vessels, it is interesting to note that the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary defines "scuttle" asTo withdraw in a precipitate and undignified manner from the occupation or control of a country.That is not the definition we seek in this context. However, it goes on to give another definition of "scuttle":To cut or bore a hole or holes in the sides or bottom of (a vessel, for the purpose of sinking her).Will this definition cover the abandonment of offshore drilling structures when or after they end their operational lives? This is an important issue which we, the Norwegians and others will have to face. What will happen to the concrete structures, to the sub-sea systems, once the oil has gone from certain fields? Do these rigs or structures come under the term "marine structure" that appears in the Bill? These are important issues to our fishermen. The fishing industry is important to the nation and the House will recall that I talked earlier about the fish-rich seas surrounding the British Isles.
I shall address myself now to part III. As the son of a Hull fishergirl and the grandson of an Aberdeen fishergirl, I know rather more about fishing than agriculture but that will not prevent me from putting some questions to the Minister. I welcome the attempt more effectively to regulate the use of pesticides in the British Isles. However, I want to see some changes made to the Bill. I hope that I am selected as one of those to consider the Bill in Committee, but that is beyond my powers to influence.
I acknowledge that clause 15(4) requires Ministers to consult the Health and Safety Commission over proposed regulations with health and safety implications. Such an arrangement does not facilitate free and open representation of the main interests involved in pesticide control. In fairness to Ministers, I should declare an interest. I am sponsored by the Transport and General Workers Union, of which the union representing agricultural workers is now a part. In the light of widespread lack of public confidence in the pesticides safety precautions scheme as a voluntary or statutory scheme, will the Minister give an assurance that agricultural workers and their representatives will in future have a direct input into the decision-making procedure on pesticide safety clearance? I remind the Minister that it has been suggested that under the new arrangements no information about pesticides should he disclosed to the public without the consent of manufacturers. I ask the Minister to give the House an assurance that no such escape clause will be available to manufacturers. Does she agree that the public have a right to all information that is required to be disclosed to authorities under the proposed statutory scheme?
It is proposed that the number of agricultural inspectors be increased by 18 to enforce the proposed pesticides controls. Will the Minister state how such enforcement can be undertaken properly when the number of inspectors is insufficient to deal with the majority of occupational 843 health and safety risks that are faced by agriculture workers and others in related industries, bearing in mind the numerous undertakings in which pesticides are used?
I note the proposal that Ministers should have powers to lay down the maximum permissible residues for pesticides in agricultural products, but will the Minister confirm that this will not provide a means for circumventing the EEC scheme for statutory maximum limits for residues in favour of the existing UK voluntary scheme? Given the current reliance on company information and expertise from within the agrochemical industry and the attendant lack of public confidence in toxicity assessment, will the Minister give the House an assurance that adequate resources are available to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food for the implementation of the Dumping at Sea Act and to the Health and Safety Commission to allow the appointment of independent inspectors?
In view of the hazards attendant upon the use of pesticides and the responsibility of both manufacturers and suppliers to the user, does the Minister intend to make approval of specific pesticides conditional upon the provision of adequate instruction and training by suppliers for all users, who in turn will have a similar duty to train workers? I do not expect answers to all my questions this evening. However, I shall be grateful if the Minister says that she will write to me to respond to the questions that she does not answer this evening.
I give the Bill a cautiously optimistic welcome. Marine pollution is a serious problem for one of our indigenous industries. The Minister knows that I keep a rather sharp eye on what takes place in Brussels on the common fisheries policy. If the fishing industry is managed properly and if we reduce marine pollution, the industry will be with us for many more generations than offshore oil and gas. As I have said, I give the Bill a cautiously optimistic welcome in the belief that a good deal needs to be done in Committee.
§ Mr. T. H. H. Skeet (Bedfordshire, North)
The hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) has raised some interesting matters which I hope he will pursue in Committee. He talked about petroleum installations in the North sea. It would be necessary to obtain the consent of the Government or the Department of Energy before the installations and structures could be sited and are obligated to remove them at the termination of work in certain fields. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising such matters, and I shall study them in great depth.
My hon. Friends the Members for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle) and for Harborough (Sir J. Farr) raised some fascinating issues, some of which I shall take up.
We have the Bill before us because of an infringement of article 85 of the treaty of Rome. I think that the Minister will acknowledge that the operation of the voluntary scheme was considered to be a restrictive practice. However, I must pay tribute to the remarkable work of those associated with it and their success over the past quarter of a century. The successful operation of the scheme and the existence of a monopoly practice which was inconsistent with the competition theories within the 844 Community made it necessary for the Bill to be introduced. If a statutory undertaking replaces a voluntary one, there is no reason to say that the successor will be unsuccessful. I wish the Bill success.
A statement of intentions on the regulations has been issued by the Minister. That will help us to a certain extent. On 12 February, in a written answer, my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary referred to the needto circulate a new consultation document detailing the proposed regulations and the administrative arrangements which will accompany them in the late spring.Surely that document will appear before Report. I hope that the intervention will be timely and that we will be able to discuss the document then. My hon. Friend continued:The consultations on these proposals will continue for as long as necessary, but our aim is to lay the regulations in Parliament this autumn, with a view to their entry into force early in 1986." — [Official Report, 12 February 1985; Vol. 73, c. 107.]That is a long shot. It seems to me that part III of this enabling Bill, which is very important, will never be properly discussed. That is not the right way to handle the legislation.
I know that my hon. Friend the Minister of State is extremely sympathetic and has been doing remarkable work in his Department. However, he will understand the difficulties of Back Benchers who wish to grapple with important matters. I hope that he will reconsider the matter and make the documents available to us in draft form even though that may not be the final form—so that we can see their general format and decide what arguments should be adduced.
On part I, I agree that the Bill gives no definition of an emergency. I am thinking, for instance, of Bhopal in India; of Windscale, where radioactive iodine and polonium escaped; or at Seveso where there was an escape of toxic chemicals in 1976. Those were serious emergencies.
The Energy Act 1976 covered emergencies, such as oil creating an emergency in the market. The Government have substantial powers to intervene in such cases in order to set the price of oil, to purchase it, and so on, but no attempt was made in that legislation to define an emergency. Flexibility is required. It is essential that the Government should be able to operate quickly. Local authorities could not expect to be consulted in circumstances in which Governments have to operate with lightning speed to mitigate any damage.
Reference has been made to the idea of compensation for innocent third parties. Companies may go into liquidation. Tragedies may occur. A farmer may lose half of his stock or all of his crops. The Government should table an amendment to set up an ex gratia fund for compensation.
On part II of the Bill, I take up the question of dumping at sea, to which the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow has referred. I noted with alarm the repeal under clause 14 of the Dumping at Sea Act 1974, but have been agreeably surprised that the legislation has been reborn in the Bill. It includes the Oslo convention of 1974 and the London dumping convention of 1975. The protocol to the Oslo convention of 1983, covering incineration at sea, is also incorporated.
The independent review of the disposal of radioactive waste at sea—the Holliday report—was published last November. We had been utilising our authority under the convention to dump low-level waste in certain deep-water 845 areas of the Atlantic, and I was glad to see in the Holliday report that the dumping had only a very limited impact on man and marine life. It would be a great shame if permanent discontinuance could disturb the nuclear industry and it could not resort to such dumping in future. My hon. Friend the Minister will say that the ad hoc scientific review of the London dumping convention has yet to appear, and he will probably refer me to the site suitability review of the Nuclear Energy Agency, but he should say something today. Is that avenue to be closed for ever so that nuclear waste cannot be dumped at sea at all? If so, an important option will be lost. If dumping cannot be done at sea, or in space — which is too expensive—Governments will have to dump the waste on land. One must consider the most suitable environmental option available. I think that the sea should be considered further.
The hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John) made an interesting point about burial under the seabed. It stands to reason that if waste cannot be buried in the Atlantic, even in canisters, it will also be forbidden to bury it under the seabed, because one would have to operate through the water. The only alternative would be to burrow out from the shore and form caverns under the sea. Perhaps my hon. Friend will clarify such points. It is important that the Committee should know what it is talking about.
Turning to part III, I pay tribute to the pesticides safety precautions scheme, which has done a remarkably good job for a number of years. It has coped with about 4,500 pesticides. The agricultural chemicals approval scheme covers another 700 chemicals. A Royal Commission recommended that the two bodies should be merged. Is that in my hon. Friend's mind?
The Minister has given the Advisory Committee on Pesticides a statutory form. We shall have to study its constitution, and it will be discussed in Committee.
I am surprised that in such a long debate no one has mentioned one problem connected with agriculture. The scale of pesticide use will be reduced further and further as, in the course of time, chemicals cease to be effective. Chemicals are becoming less and less effective as insects develop greater resistance. As the insects are strengthened, the chemicals grow weaker.
No one has referred to the growing area of biotechnology, which is providing some of the routes ahead. Biotechnology has stimulated crop yields. It is making crops resistant to disease by fortifying their immunity, and it is being utilised to alleviate environmental stress. Crop protection agents based on microorganisms — for example, provide the fungal material that controls aphids and white fly in glasshouses — is a case in point. From bacteria grown in a fermenter, a product has been developed by Microbial Resources Limited for the destruction of the mosquito larvae. If chemicals will not function, perhaps we should consider these alternatives. It preserves the environment and has no side effects with which we need concern ourselves.
As to the export of pesticides, an article in The Times of 16 December 1984 said:Britain, the world's third largest manufacturer, has no notification procedures and no restraints on exports.As a result of the Bill, we shall have modified procedures. I pay tribute to the other place for making some useful amendments. Clause 15(11)(b) was one, and that requires exporters 846for the fulfilment of the government of the United Kingdom of any international obligation to supply information".Paragraph (c) makes provision:to enable the government of the United Kingdom to determine what action it should take in order to fulfil an international obligation of any other description.The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) said that there have been about 10,000 deaths in the Third world nations. The United Kingdom has had nothing like that. It is incumbent on the Governments of industrial countries to take deaths in the Third world seriously. I should like clause 15 to be tightened. That could be considered in Committee.
I have a document which says that it is not the full answer for the exporting country to inform the importing country of its regulations relating to pesticides and the reasons for them and, having been given that information, the importing country must specifically request that the export takes place. It should be remembered that some of the people involved are not erudite in the sciences but have a problem that must be dealt with immediately. The result is that they import the material and it leads to many casualties. While considering a major Bill, we should address that problem by suitable amendments.
My hon. Friend the Member for Torridge and Devon, West (Sir P. Mills) said that aerial crop spraying is important. I agree that it is probably the only way in which forests can be sprayed adequately. If the industry is faced with large-scale infestation, aerial spraying is essential. However, is it essential to spray from the air crops in a field of perhaps only two or three acres? A vehicle is manoeuvrable but aircraft are not, and yet they must turn in a small space. While turning, therefore, they spray hedgerows, allotments and gardens, doing unaccountable damage to all species, including insects and birds. We should not forget that aerial spraying might account for only 2 per cent. of pesticide applications.
The hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) I said that, of the 5.3 billion hectares of crops that were treated with pesticides in 1982, 360,000 hectares were sprayed from aircraft. That represents a significant proportion—6.8 per cent. As many firms are involved, could e not screw down more rigorous conditions to ensure that people and the countryside are safeguarded? My hon. Friend the Minister will rightly say that the Civil Aviation Authority will do all the necessary monitoring. I have already said that I have been sprayed during the past five years. I was not notified by any farmer that there would be spraying. I understand the problems associated with aircraft—that they have to come straight down the hillside and turn fairly sharply at the boundary. Notification procedures alone are not satisfactory. I should have thought that my hon. Friend could work out a much better system. Perhaps a licensing system would be more effective.
I dare say that my hon. Friend the Minister will say that the permitted distance has been extended from 75 ft to 200 ft on a horizontal path from houses, but is that adequate when dealing with aircraft flying at 200 ft? The Belgians have stipulated that spraying should not be done within 2,000m of dwellings or within 300m of a single house. Denmark specifies 300m for a single house, the Netherlands between 100m and 150m and the Federal Republic of Germany 50m to 100m.
I support the Bill. It has been thrust on the United Kingdom, but we have no alternative. We can argue about it in Committee, but I regret that we shall have our hands 847 tied behind our backs. It is enabling legislation which it will be hard to modify without understanding completely what is going on. However, I trust the Minister to do his best in the interests of industry, the environment and the country.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)
I apologise for not being here at the beginning of the debate but the Committee considering the Local Government Bill was sitting most of this afternoon. I therefore left this issue in the capable hands of my hon. Friend the Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Howells). We rarely feature together. It is relevant that the last time was a debate on overseas aid during a Supply day initiated by the Liberal party. The issues associated with the Bill and food to the Third world are related. They concern the health of people and the health of our planet.
In answer to a question posed earlier by the hon. Member for Harborough (Sir J. Farr), the Bill is before us because it is a response not only to international pressure, which I support when it moves in this direction whether it emanates from the general diplomatic community or from the European Community, but in response to a public mood. The public believe that it is essential for there to be control of activities that are a necessary part of our food production process, but that have sometimes been a threat to the right balance between the technical developments and the natural response to looking after our heritage.
I know that the Government accept that it is important that we see this legislation in the context of its international dimension. Therefore, is the Parliamentary Secretary satisfied that if the intention behind the legislation is carried through, and we see the details of the subordinate legislation, we shall have legislation as good as that of any of our European partners or of western Europe generally? That must be our objective in controlling pollution by chemicals, in regulation and marketing, and in making sure that our food is healthy. We must move increasingly to a healthy food society away from what is called the trash food society, and we must ensure that we have the highest standard among our colleagues and competitors.
The Parliamentary Secretary must address another important point. In the past, outline legislation such as this has been introduced but it has been a decade or more before it has been firmed up. The best example, which does not emanate from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, is the Control of Pollution Act. The Parliamentary Secretary will know that only recently has a large part of that Act been enforced, 10 years after it was first enacted. I hope that with this Bill we shall see the whole work soon and are not left to wait for the subordinate legislation for years. People want to see not just the outline but the substance.
I am glad to see the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) in his place. He will know that we have to ensure that the Bill is not full of loopholes and exemptions that will result in us coming back again. As the Parliamentary Secretary will know, tomorrow we are debating in Committee the Wildlife and Countryside (Amendment) Bill, a Bill required because the first Act did not deal with 848 a blatant loophole. That loophole meant that sites of special scientific interest could be ploughed up and got rid of in the first three months after notification.
It has been asked why we need compulsion when the voluntary arrangements had — the hon. Member for Harborough said — worked well. The answer is that unless there is a statutory framework, one cannot guarantee that people do not abuse the freedom that they have. The Wildlife and Countryside Act evidenced that in a way that the whole House recognised and by which it was appalled. I hope that the Minister will accept that that is why we cannot allow the Bill to have exemptions through which a coach and horse could be driven. We must have tightly drawn provisions. We must not be persuaded away from the right path in making the legislation effective.
The Bill may reflect a move away from the industrial revolution of the last century and the agricultural revolution of this century, to the environmental revolution of the next century. I hope that it does. Rightly, we responded in the 19th century to the needs of industry. This century, we responded to the requirements put upon our farmers to produce more food. We need to ensure that the food that is desperately required, not just by us but by the world, is produced. One could go into the best ways of doing that worldwide. We now need to ensure that in doing all these things—these are the tasks that Ministers are charged with supervising and dealing with — our production society is increasingly environmentally sensitive.
The hon. Member for Greenock and, Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) and other hon. Members have said that we have to ensure that all that we do is in that context. For example, we should ensure that our litter is biodegradable. Milk containers, which may be thrown on the ground, should not be harmful to the environment, and should not be pollutants. We have to ensure that we use and control our chemicals in a way that is sensitive and sympathetic to what we require our producers — the farmers and fishermen—to do.
It is increasingly important that, whatever Government are in power—I am trying to avoid party political points — there is greater co-ordination between Departments, not only between the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Department of the Environment but between those Departments and the Welsh and Scottish Offices. In what we do we must ensure that the information base, the data banks, the available statistics and the comparisons with our partners in Europe and elsewhere are used by us properly across the range of development — and obviously this applies to the Departments which have responsibility for energy, trade and industry and so on. We must ensure that the best information is available so that the enforcement mechanisms provided by the Bill are used across the spectrum of our national life.
All of us are, in the time span of this world, here for a minute time. It is our principal task while we are here to make sure that time is not ended by our activities.
§ Mr. Hughes
The hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John) is getting worried because he has stolen a few marches on me, but he will well know that that does not dictate the order in which we are called away from our task on this planet, and that must be a consolation to him. He 849 will know, as I do, that anybody with Welsh blood lives a longer and richer life than many other people. Indeed, all Celts are normally included in that category, and I can claim Scots blood too.
Because we are here for such a short time, our task is to be stewards in all that we do. We are lucky — in words that are familiar to everybody, not only to Members of Parliament — that we have in this country a very green and pleasant land. We must therefore be on our guard to ensure that the short-term gain does not lead to a long-term loss.
That is what the Bill is concerned with, producing for tomorrow but losing for the future. Because of our great responsibility as stewards, we must make sure that we frame not hollow legislation but an expanded series of enactments to do the job of stewarding with increased vigour and effectiveness.
It is trite nowadays to say that the world faces a food catastrophe. The people who live in the Horn of Africa are probably the most evident examples of that. We know that the world also faces an environmental catastrophe. Less and less of our land is cultivable for an ever growing number of people. The population growth projections are horrifying when one reflects upon them. We therefore have a collective responsibility to make sure that our bit of the world, the bit that is our backyard, has proper food and environmental protection. We hope that the Bill will be the launch pad for effective proposals in complete, not outline, form which will be increasingly supported by all parties in the near future.
§ 9.7 pm
§ Dr. David Clark (South Shields)
The debate has been constructive. At times I felt that the only slightly beleaguered person was the Minister. No doubt the Parliamentary Secretary in her reply will explain her situation in that respect.
It was particularly apposite that the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) made the point that hon. Members throughout the debate have been constructive. We are conscious that this Bill, like so many Bills which are of a semi-technical nature, may easily be wrongly drafted so that the end product is defective. As outlined by the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey, the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 has been agreed by hon. Members on both sides of the House to be defective. I must apologise to the House for having been absent from the Chamber for part of the debate. Through the usual channels, I have been involved in discussion of the business of the Committee which tomorrow will consider the Wildlife and Countryside (Amendment) Bill. Hon. Members on both sides of the House are anxious to correct the anomalies of the 1981 Act.
This Bill is yet another example of agriculture impinging on the environment, or possibly the environment impinging upon agriculture. I wish that the Government had treated the subject in that way. It would have been better if a Minister from the Department of the Environment were to respond to the debate. In the Committee on the Wildlife and Countryside (Amendment) Bill tomorrow a Minister responsible for agriculture will be part of the team.
The debate and the advance publicity has tended to concentrate on pesticides. That is not surprising because many of us realise that the events in Rachel Carson's 850 "Silent Spring" have not been true of our island in the way that some people thought in the 1960s, although they can be applied to many parts of the world.
The hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Howells) was right to criticise cuts in expenditure on soil surveys. The nation cannot afford to allow its soil to go unresearched and unmonitored. Halving the money available bodes ill for the future of agriculture. Anxiety about that is felt on all sides of the House.
The debate has been useful and constructive because the issues affect all our constituents, whether they live in town or in country. The hon. Member for Torridge and Devon, West (Sir P. Mills) stressed that we are all consumers and that we are all worried about what is in our food. Pesticides used to treat crops have an effect on our food.
I hope that the Opposition's approach is not neolithic. My hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John) made it clear that pesticides have brought great advantages to agriculture, horticulture and forestry. We have managed to increase cropping and to take some of the hard work out of agriculture. However, we must get the Bill right.
As the Minister said, the debate is not about agriculture alone, but about pesticides and other chemicals, used in hospitals for example. The issue affects all people who work with chemicals.
On 20 November 1984 my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) asked about the link between cancer among workers and the use of pesticides. On 12 February my hon. Friend the Member of Workington (Mr Campbell-Savours) also raised that issue.
In the Lancet of 14 May 1983 an interesting table was published. I mention it, not to try to prove a point but to remind the House that the Lancet concluded that there was a higher incidence of malformations among the children of agricultural workers and groundsmen— people who use chemicals—than in other groups. I do not argue that that is conclusive, but I remind the House that we are talking about almost every occupation.
Pesticides obviously spell danger. They can cause danger to users and, as the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, North (Mr. Skeet) said, to innocent bystanders. The spray might go off course and affect people who are walking on a footpath, standing by the roadside or driving along a street. So it is not only the people who use the pesticide who are at risk, nor is it only people. The hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) raised a point on clause 15, which affects flora and fauna, and suggested that perhaps more attention should be paid to this. Modern pesticides are more effective and more complicated than their predecessors and there are therefore more accompanying worries and dangers in addition to the problems of production.
I shall deal with the Bill in chronological order and say a few words about each of the parts.
Part I deals with the powers and duties of the Government in the case of emergency, and obviously the Opposition understand the reasons why it is being brought forward and support the motives for introducing this par of the Bill. We are a little concerned, however, about the way in which local authorities appear not to have been consulted and the fact that there does not appear to be a role for them. I understand absolutely the need for speed—that is the whole point of an emergency—but I feel that there should be a much greater initiative to try to involve the local authorities. It is often the local authorities 851 that have the skilled personnel and the officers experienced in the quality of food. In view of the restricted numbers of staff available to the Minister, it is quite plain that he will have to rely on local authority staff. So I hope that he will pursue that further and perhaps during the Committee stage give us a little more reassurance on that point.
I wonder whether the Minister could also give us some assurance about accidents that might occur at sea. Since I represent a port constituency, I am very conscious of this danger. I have put down a number of questions to try to glean information and I know that the Government have been trying to identify certain safe havens along the United Kingdom coastline to see where damaged tankers or vessels with dangerous cargoes could be isolated if an emergency occurred. The Minister quoted the case of the Aeolian Sky off the Portland Bill, which came to nothing, as it happened, but in this case we are involving the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of Transport and other Ministries. Is the Minister absolutely certain that his fellow Ministers are aware of and able to co-operate in this particular exercise? We recognise the need for action and we must get it right if we possibly can.
Part II deals with dumping at sea. My hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) elaborated on this point and made some very useful and sensitive inquiries. As we all know, this Bill repeals the Dumping at Sea Act 1974. When an Act is repealed it is inevitable that there is concern. The fact that the Oslo conference and the London dumping conference, which basically govern the Government's attitude and action with regard to the sea, are not mentioned in this new Bill causes us some concern.
Basically, however, my worry is about clause 8 of the Bill, which says that the licensing authority, when deciding whether material should be disposed of at sea,shall have regard to the need — (i) to protect the marine environment … and (ii) to prevent interference with legitimate uses of the sea".That is quite clear, but it goes on to say:may have regard to such other matters as the authority considers relevant.I think that the Minister of State reiterated the point today that he made in a written answer on 14 February, when he said that the Billcontains all the necessary powers to implement the international conventions on dumping at sea". — [Official Report, 14 February 1985; Vol. 73, c. 263.]Certainly part II contains powers, but what it does not always do, in common with part III, is impose obligations. There is a difference there, which we shall want to probe in Committee.
I should like to explain that further. As the House knows, our attitudes and actions are governed by the Oslo convention. Implementation was incomplete. In a sense, the Bill does nothing to rectify that. The key aspect of the Oslo convention, which goes unmentioned in the Bill, is in the final section of annex III. Dealing with the principles governing the issue of licences, it states:in applying these principles, the practical availability of alternative means of disposal or elimination will be taken into consideration.That is a very important point. When it has been raised on previous occasions the Government have come up with three answers. First, they have said that it would not be relevant to certain operations such as the deposit of materials from harbour works. Secondly, they have said 852 that one should not single out any one criterion from the Oslo convention annex. Thirdly, they have said that the availability of alternatives to sea dumping was in any case always taken into account by the licensing authorities.
Let me examine those three answers. The first reason is spurious. If there are no other means of disposal, the dumping licence could always be granted. Again, the second point seems to be invalid. The need to consider alternative disposal options is not a criterion like others in the annex, but an obligation. That comes back to the point that I was making about powers and obligations. That leaves only the third reason. Why on earth cannot the Government accept an amendment if they already do what is required? I hope that the Government will feel able to amend the Bill in Committee, perhaps to alter schedule 3 to include a provision meaning that the alternative practicable means of dumping are considered.
I emphasise this point strongly. I have said it previously at the Dispatch Box. I see that there is a statement in today's edition of The Guardian that emphasises it. The Prime Minister of Sweden is again beginning to call for economic action against Britain. We are now the bad neighbours in Europe. That applies to acid rain and dumping in the sea. As my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd made clear, we use the North sea as a dump far more than any other nation. Some 98.8 per cent. of the total sewage sludge dumped in the North sea is dumped by Britain.
I checked the licences from my area to see what is being dumped. If my people realised what was being dumped in the North sea off the port of Tyne, they would be horrified. Industrial effluent from fine chemical manufacture is dumped in liquid form—I am not talking about dredged spoil or sewage. Ammonium salts and salt solution from fine chemical manufacture are dumped. Pulverised fuel ash and sewage sludge are dumped. I could go on. I am worried immensely that phenolic effluent, the remains of pesticide manufacture, is dumped. That material is licensed by the Government to be dumped in the North sea. That causes alarm to the fishermen in my constituency and also to our neighbours across the water. I warn the Government that unless they become environmentally conscious, which they are not in spite of their self-proclamation, they will be isolated in Europe and we shall pay the economic cost for it.
May I deal with the regulations. Almost every hon. Member who has spoken today pressed the Government on this point. We are being asked to buy a pig in a poke. We understand the Minister's intention. We have before us his declaration of intent. However, a number of Opposition Members doubt the Government's commitment to delivering many of the things that they say they can deliver. In the other place, and from both sides of the House tonight, there have been demands that the draft regulations must be put before us. It is ridiculous for those draft regulations to be withheld.
The Minister of State said that he did not want to prejudge the outcome of the consultations with other groups, but he is consulting because he is releasing the proposals for regulations without which the Bill is an empty vessel. The Minister must be well aware that the elected Members of Parliament have the right to a say in the formulation of those regulations and that all the groups he is consulting, ranging from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds to the National Farmers Union, are 853 calling for the regulations to be laid before the House before the Bill is passed. I urge the Government to do this as strongly as I can.
Just before the Bill left the other place the Minister promised peers that he would consider whether it would be possible to circulate a detailed statement about the proposed regulations. I understand that his right hon. Friend has retracted that promise, which I very much regret. I am referring not to the declaration of intent but to the announcement by Lord Belstead on 5 February that he hoped to be able to publish a detailed statement of the proposed implementation regulations. We understand that they will not be forthcoming. I am referring not to the declaration of intent—I may be wrong about this—but to the reference sheet issued by the Library of the House of Commons, the consultation paper on the regulations. I urge the Government to honour the pledge given by Lord Belstead.
One of the other reasons that was advanced for this move is that one can trust civil servants. I am afraid that over the years a number of hon. Members have become a little worried about civil servants. I asked somebody to look at the official records for 30 years ago, which have just been released by the Public Record Office. I had not realised that just 30 years ago a working party was set up to consider the precautionary measures to be taken against toxic substances used in agriculture. It was chaired by no less a person than Professor Zuckerman as he then was. There was also a panel that considered the retail sales of proprietary pest control products. These committees met between 1950 and 1953. It was fascinating to discover that 30 years ago they recommended the same controls as we are discussing tonight and, indeed, further controls that we are not even discussing tonight. There is a lesson to be learned from that. I would advise hon. Members to check the records because they are very illuminating.
It was suggested in the first report that warning notices should be put up on field gates where spraying had taken place or was taking place. This was to be done "in the public interest." I am sure that that would appeal to the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, North. Another point that was raised was that doctors and hospitals should be forewarned if spraying with organophosphorous pesticides was to take place in the area. One of the problems nowadays is that doctors are unable to treat those who have been affected by spray drift because they do not know what that spray drift consists of. It is interesting to note that both those recommendations were suppressed by the Ministry committee which met subsequently. That is what happened to the regulations that were advanced 30 years ago.
Lord Zuckerman's second report said that all new pesticides should be registered by law and all pesticide contractors should be licensed. That report, again, was emasculated by Ministers and when the regulations appeared in draft they were in a different form. Although the committee recommended statutory control, it never happened. If we look through all the records we find that similar things come up time and time again. We are worried at the idea of regulations being left in the hands of bodies other than the House.
We are not just talking about pesticides affecting crops; we are talking about pesticides eventually affecting individuals. That is why there has been a demand for freedom of information from both sides of the House. I cannot understand why matters are being kept secret. It is 854 no use the Minister going half way because the information is available. Most of the agrochemical companies are multinationals and most of them have American connections.
As an experiment, together with the Friends of the Earth, I wondered whether we could obtain information about glyphosate. It is a chemical rather similar to paraquat but more effective. We filed to the United States and we have the information. It is available here on microfiche. It is available to anyone, and to any other chemical company. If it is available in the United States it should be available here. A further point that is often raised is that its availability would disclose company information. That is not so. I have the print-out of some of those microfiches and the company information is left blank. The microfiche does not tell us how to make the chemicals. People do not want to know that, but it tells them what is in the chemicals.
The important point is — the Americans have this right and we must, too—that such information protects not just the public; a proper screening method also protects the manufacturer from other unscrupulous manufacturers.
There are many other matters about which I could have talked, but my hon. Friends have covered them. We believe that the Bill is sound, and the framework is right. We should like to play our part in filling that framework because from experience it has seemed to us, for example, with the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, that when we have left matters to regulations they have been found wanting.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mrs. Peggy Fenner)
Beleaguered I may be, but I am grateful for all the points which have been raised today. My hon. Friend the Minister of State and I have listened to them with great attention, and I feel that we have had a constructive debate. The variety of points made shows how widespread is the interest in the subject of the Bill and how strongly held these views are. The fact that so many hon. Members have spoken today and their general support for the principles underlying the Bill strongly vindicate the Government's decision to bring forward legislation on this matter.
My colleagues and I shall of course consider carefully all that has been said. Some of the points raised we had heard before in another place but some of them were new. I shall ensure that they are all given full attention before the Bill moves on to its next stage in the House.
It is understandable that many of the questions put to the Government today were about the way in which we shall use the powers that we are seeking. We shall endeavour to provide answers to those questions as the Bill proceeds, and I hope that we shall be able to reassure questioners that the Government are anxious to introduce practical, realistic and environmentally sound arrangements. On the matters on which there will be further consultation, I can give a firm undertaking that final decisions will not be made until the views of those affected have been examined.
I took as many notes as I could during the debate. If I do not answer all the points that were raised because of the 855 limited time, I assure hon. Members that I will respond to them later. Of course, many of them are Committee points.
Many hon. Members wanted to know what would be in the regulations and wanted the opportunity to express their views on them. This is a basic matter and it is natural and reasonable that they should want further detail. There is at present no power to make such regulations. The first necessary step is to take these powers, which means that Parliament must decide exactly the scope of the powers and what they should be. That is why the Bill is before the House.
The next step is to draft regulations. That is a detailed job and necessarily involves a very full discussion between the Government and all those bodies with any interest in pesticide use — manufacturers, users, environmental groups, distributors and so on, all with an informed, valuable and differing contribution to make. That process of discussion must take place before regulations can be prepared. It will begin as soon as the Bill becomes law.
Of course, preparations are already being made, but to argue that the regulations ought to be ready now is to argue that the Bill should wait until everything else is finalised. There is no reason why the enabling legislation should be held up until the subordinate legislation has been drafted. The Government are acting in a logical order.
Hon. Members seem to underrate the statement of intent which was made available to them. I urge them to examine it again. It gives a fair general picture of the matters that will be covered in regulations and, in regard to the need for future consultation, it gives an indication of what will be provided. I assure hon. Members that the Government's consultation document and all the proposals discussed with interested organisations will be made available to them. My right hon. Friends will be more than willing to receive the views of hon. Members while the process of consultation is taking place.
§ Mrs. Fenner
I shall have to consider carefully the views that have been expressed by the House today. I pledge to do that.
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
Is it true that officials of the Department have submitted to the manufacturers draft regulations?
§ Mrs. Fenner
So far as I am aware, no. A consultation document will be prepared which will go out to all interested bodies.
§ Mrs. Fenner
Hon. Members can all have the consultation paper. I know I must not quote directly, but my noble Friend said exactly that:The Government intend to issue a consultation paper on the details of the regulations and to get down to drafting the regulations when we have received the responses."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 5 February 1985; Vol. 459, c. 1052.]856 I trust that that answers the hon. Gentleman.
The hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John) asked for a definition of an emergency under part I. It is the nature of an emergency that it cannot be defined in advance. Someone must decide whether an emergency has arisen. The Bill puts that responsibility on Ministers and then rightly provides Ministers with the powers necessary to deal with it. To give Ministers flexibility, part I is intentionally not specific about the circumstances in which it would be used. As my hon. Friend the Minister made clear, part I is intended to deal only with major emergencies including those at sea where the help and co-ordinating power of central Government will be needed in addition to the skills and resources of local authorities. Part I in no way detracts from the legal powers that local authorities already possess.
The hon. Member for Pontypridd asked about the distinction under part I between a gross and an ordinary mistake by a Minister in declaring an emergency. Under part I the Minister might—indeed, probably would—take measures which subsequently proved more than were strictly necessary. It is the nature of precautionary measures that they are taken before the full facts can have been established. The courts would assume that a potential polluter could understand that. It is an inevitable consequence of the Bill that a polluter would be responsible for the results of all reasonable precautionary measures.
§ Mrs. Fenner
The polluter would be liable because of the event that caused the Minister to take that action.
The hon. Member for Pontypridd asked what would happen if the polluter could not be identified. Part I is intended to be used only in emergencies—not to deal with relatively minor incidents. It is extremely unlikely that an emission of dangerous substances sufficient to require the issue of an emergency order would arise without the source becoming apparent. However, if such an incident occurred, those who were affected would not be deprived of benefits under their insurance policies because the person legally liable could not be sued. Financial responsibility should remain where it properly belongs, and the legislation should not encourage it to be transferred elsewhere.
The hon. Member for Pontypridd asked about the role of local authorities. It is not necessary to refer to local authorities in the Bill, because their existing power under the Food Act 1984 to condemn unfit food will remain exactly as it is. The Bill will enable Ministers to impose safet-first restrictions in a major emergency. Moreover, it is not necessary to protect the ability of local authorities to make representations to Ministers. Any responsible body or person could ask Ministers to use their powers, and Ministers would be bound to consider any reasonable representation.
The hon. Member for Pontypridd was concerned about the repeal of the Dumping at Sea Act 1974. That Act gave power to make arrangements with other convention states for mutual enforcement of conventions. It was enacted on an assumption that such arrangements would be elaborated under conventions; in fact, they were not. Enforcement has remained with individual contracting parties, so it 857 cannot be true that this would have a deterrent effect. In fact, no work has been done in that regard in 10 years. Our approach has been to strengthen the controls that we have—for example, to extend control over foreign vessels.
The hon. Gentleman asked about nuclear dumping. The Government have already broadly accepted the Holliday recommendation. But further work is required, and we are actively pursuing this matter. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, at a meeting which I attended yesterday, made representations to the TUC to examine a follow-up to Holliday. I assure the House that the action recommended by Holliday will be taken.
The hon. Gentleman also asked about waste disposal on the sea bed. That is a new concept for waste disposal whose feasibility and legal position have not yet been fully examined, but the consensus so far in the London dumping convention is that the LDC is the place to discuss it. If it is shown to be feasible and safe, such disposal should not go ahead until a regulated framework has been worked out in the LDC. The international legal position is so unclear that it would be premature to try to deal with that subject in the Bill.
The hon. Gentleman added that the Government should review their policy of reliance on dumping. United Kingdom policy has always been firmly based on a scientific examination of requests for dumping licences in order to protect the marine environment. The Bill contains that principle. Indeed, it strengthens our control where such strengthening has been shown to be necessary. The United Kingdom also places importance on observing the provisions of international conventions, and the Bill gives us power to do that. Subject to that scientific and environmental background, the Government believe that some wastes can safely be disposed of at sea. My hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, North (Mr. Skeet) said that the best disposal option should be found. The Holliday report recommended that various options should be reviewed, and that study is being organised. Meanwhile, the Government have said that the dumping of nuclear waste will not resume until the review by the London dumping convention is complete.
The hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) raised several matters on part II and said that there were many forms of pollution. I agree, but there are many different causes of pollution, which can all have adverse effects on fisheries. The Bill deals with one area — dumping and incineration. Dumping means the deliberate disposal from ships, marine structures and floating containers. The protection of fisheries is a major consideration in licensing. The hon. Gentleman asked about staff shortages for monitoring as evidenced in the Rayner report. I am glad to say that those vacancies have been filled. He asked whether marine structures included oil rigs, and I can confirm that they do. He asked about the abandonment of oil rigs. I agree that that is an important matter, but the problem will not arise for several years. The Bill does not deal specifically with that matter, because it is not how oil rigs will be disposed of. However, it is clear that the fisheries must be safeguarded when that time comes. The hon. Gentleman will agree that his other points can be taken up in Committee.
Pesticides have taken up most of the debate today. Many hon. Members have dealt with this part of the Bill, and I hope that I will not sound perverse for a Government Minister if I say that I welcome the detailed expression of their concern. This part of the Bill is evidence that the 858 Government are also anxious to establish a system under which we can do whatever is proved necessary over time to control the use of pesticides. I do not pretend that we have all the answers now, but I regard the questions that hon. Members have raised today as an essential test of the Bill. Does it provide powers to control matters if some of our worst fears are realised? At the same time, are its objectives clear enough so that it does not arouse fears of unnecessary intrusion into the lives of those who earn their livings in the industries involved? The Government believe that the Bill meets both tests, and they wish to persuade hon. Members of that.
I group some of the concerns that have been expressed by hon. Members by dealing first with the system of approval of pesticides. The Government's decision to build the Advisory Committee for Pesticides into the approval system—to make it clear that the committee controls its agenda and is to be consulted in the preparation of regulations as well as approvals — has been welcomed. But a number of hon. Members have asked either that the ACP should have a wider membership, including representatives of trade unions, environmental groups and so on, or that the Health and Safely Commission, with its tripartite consultative machinery, should play a bigger role in the approval of pesticides.
We do not think that it would be appropriate to change the nature of the ACP by adding interest groups to its membership. However, we propose to review the structure and membership of the specialist panels which assist the ACP and the scientific sub-committee on such things as container design, labelling and wildlife issues, and which must in the future concern themselves with the issue of economy and safety in application systems.
We would welcome an input from representatives, for example, of the trade unions, on these important panels and will consult appropriately when we have a detailed proposal to make.
Many hon. Members have raised the question of exports. I fully appreciate the concern of those who wish to commit the Government to a particular policy on exports in the belief that it is necessary to bring under strict control the export of materials which are either banned or severely restricted in use in the United Kingdom.
We could argue at length about the desirability of such a control, but I put it to the House that the Bill, together with the Import, Export and Customs Powers (Defence) Act 1939, provides Ministers with all the powers necessary to control the export of pesticides, should they feel that to be desirable and in the interests of industry. It seeks to clarify when those powers would be used, which is in the fulfilment of an obligation entered into internationally with our trading partners. In the Government's view, this strikes the right balance.
Hon. Members raised points about the disclosure of information or our willingness to make publicly available the data which is deposited with Departments as the basis for the safety assessment which leads to approval. It would not be right to give specific commitments at this stage to the detail of the information which the Government will disclose.
But our policy is clear. The Departments which hold this information now are "pollution control authorities" in the terms of the tenth report of the Royal Commission on environmental pollution, and the Government accept the thrust of the commission's overriding recommendation that 859There should be a presumption in favour of unrestricted access for the public.Several hon. Members raised the question of the development of alternative forms of plant protection. The hon. Member for Pontypridd and my hon. Friend the Member for Torridge and Devon, West (Sir P. Mills)—my hon. Friend explained that he might have to leave before the end of the debate—raised that matter, and I will gladly deal with it.
Our concentration in the Bill has been largely on chemical-based systems of control, and that is necessary because that is what we are currently trying to regulate. But the Government are keen to see a high level of activity in the public and private sectors in improving plant varieties and propagation material, including resistant varieties, in developing biological systems of pest control—my hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, North (Mr. Skeet) spoke about that — and in developing integrated control systems with careful monitoring of pest levels to enable the choice of the most effective chemicals and the optimum stage at which to apply them.
At our Boxworth experimental husbandry farm there is a major project to determine the long-term ecological effects of different levels of pesticide inputs in animal and plant species. Similar research to help reduce pesticide usage in the stored crops sector is under way at the ADAS Slough laboratories. This is all part of our policy on pesticides, and part III of the Bill would not make sense without it.
In the last few minutes of the debate I shall try rapidly to take up some of the issues raised by my hon. Friends. Some of them talked about cost and enforcement. We hope that the cost of implementing part I will not be much. The provisions in part I are intended to deal with an emergency which we hope will not happen. The costs incurred in the implementation of part II will be offset by fees for licensing. As for part III, I have informed the House of the intention to appoint 18 additional inspectors for the Health and Safety Executive and 16 extra staff for the Ministry. There will be fees for applications for approval.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes
Does the Minister accept that some of us will be happy if there is additional cost provided that there is an effective result? We will not mind a few extra appointments to ensure that the Bill works properly. We shall not object if that price has to be paid.
§ Mrs. Fenner
Indeed. I felt that I should reassure the House about the nature of the cost.
Several hon. Members have spoken about training. The regulations would require that after a transitional period those wishing to supply and distribute pesticides must satisfy Ministers that they have reached appropriate standards in the suitability of their premises and the training of their staff. Such evidence would be required at 860 regular intervals. Ministers could have regard to evidence from such organisations or centres which could satisfy them that they had tested to the required standard.
§ Mr. John Carlisle
In satisfying herself and the Department of the standard of those involved in the scheme, would it not be as well for my hon. Friend to visit the United Kingdom Agriculural Supply Trade Association to talk to those involved in the basic agreement? She would find there people who are already qualified. They have passed examinations and have great experience within the industry. They might be of great assistance to her.
§ Mrs. Fenner
Yes. My hon. Friend advanced that argument earlier and so did my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey, South-West (Mrs. Bottomley). They spoke of the value of BASIS and we hope that there will continue to be voluntary support for the scheme. It is right that consultation with the organisation would be helpful.
The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) referred to a report in the The Sunday Times about high pesticide residues. The Sunday Times publicised a survey that had been conducted by the Association of Public Analysts. The data were wrongly interpreted. Residue levels were low and The Sunday Times did not publish a correcting letter. The extensive monitoring of the Government's working party on pesticide residues demonstrates that residues have fallen steadily over the past 20 years as a result of controls.
My hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle) asked about seeds and wanted to know whether they are covered by the Bill. The answer is yes.
The hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) referred to Rachel Carson and "Silent Spring". We are rather proud of the voluntary pesticides safety precautions scheme, which predates Rachel Carson. I do not accept from him any criticism of the Government on environmental matters. We do not have all the answers now, but we are seeking to ensure that the Bill is enveloped in good, sound environmental arrangements.
§ Dr. David Clark
The Minister gave us a hint that she would be prepared, perhaps, to open up the freedom of information provisions. Will she give the House an assurance that her officials will consider carefully the scheme that the United States has produced to tackle the problem?
§ Mrs. Fenner
I can assure the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) that we have already had a cosy talk, to take up the accusation of the hon. Member for South Shields, with the freedom of information campaign. Perhaps that will answer questions on that score.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time and committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 42 (Committal of Bills).