HC Deb 07 July 1988 vol 136 cc1175-6
3. Mr. Duffy

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he next expects to meet the president of the National Farmers Union to discuss agricultural pollution.

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. John MacGregor)

I have discussed this with various members of the National Farmers Union, including the president. Farming unions are already well aware that the Government regard last year's number of pollution incidents as unacceptably high.

Mr. Duffy

Is that good enough, given that illegal farm discharges of slurry and silage in Yorkshire and Humberside last year were up by 38 per cent.? Is the Minister aware that south Yorkshire's water supply is 25 per cent. derived from surface-derived water abstracted from the River Derwent outside York, which itself is a catchment area of intensive agriculture? If so, he will understand the concern in south Yorkshire. I am being asked whether the time has not arrived for the Minister to consider a more vigorous prosecution policy.

Mr. MacGregor

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we take this matter seriously. I know that the National Farmers Union is now doing so. We have fully backed water authorities in stepping up prosecutions. Through ADAS we have offered general free advice and we are carrying out a great programme in this area to assist. We are carrying out research into improved construction and management of waste-handling facilities. Capital grants for this sort of purpose, for dealing with waste storage and handling equipment, are available at the highest rates. We take this matter seriously. Clearly, we cannot have this sort of increase in farm pollution incidents.

Mr. Bowis

Will my right hon. Friend discuss with the farming community ways of encouraging modern crop spraying methods, such as the electrically charged droplets system, which uses much less water and therefore causes much less drift spray pollution in the countryside?

Mr. MacGregor

I have seen a considerable amount of that sort of thing at various shows and other exhibitions, where the attractions of such equipment have been drawn to the attention of farmers. I know that agricultural machinery companies are constantly trying to improve these sorts of facilities, and I agree that they are one way of helping to deal with the problem.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Is the loss of the common minnow in the Cumbrian lakes in any way linked to this agricultural pollution?

Mr. MacGregor

I shall look into that and write to the hon. Gentleman.

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