HL Deb 19 November 1959 vol 219 cc749-52

2.5 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are aware that, following on the use of certain all-obliterating toxic crop sprays, there have been found dead hares, voles, blackbirds, thrushes, starlings, pheasants, dunnock, partridges, bees, spiders, ladybirds and beetles; and whether they will consider the advisability of prohibiting the use of any sprays with such indiscriminate death-dealing capabilities.]


My Lords, Her Majesty's Government are aware that certain chemical sprays are poisonous to many forms of wild life. Risks to wild life are, however, considered by the Advisory Committee on Poisonous Substances used in Agriculture and Food Storage before any new chemical is cleared under the Notification Scheme agreed with the agricultural chemical industry. Precautions for minimising risks to wild life are drawn up, published, and included in manufacturers' literature.


My Lords, while thanking the noble Earl for his Answer, may I, on behalf of varied and important interests, express the greatest disappointment with the inadequacy of the Government's proposals to deal with the problem of the shocking consequences to wild life and to soil fertility of the use of indiscriminate toxic sprays? May I ask the noble Earl whether he is aware that in Norfolk this year, due to crop spraying, six cases were confirmed by the laboratories at Rothamsted where the majority of the foraging bees from something over 100 colonies were destroyed with a consequential loss in honey crop to the value of £400 or £500, compared with the yield from normal colonies in the same district which were not affected; and what action the Government propose to take to deal with a question of that nature?


My Lords, may I ask the noble Earl whether he is aware, as I read in a newspaper (I think it was the Field) that a woman has died from eating blackberries which were supposed to have been poisoned by the use of these sprays?


My Lords, with regard to bees, it is unfortunately, true that, particularly this summer, large quantities of bees were probably killed because crops were sprayed when weeds were in flower. It is the advice to my right honourable friend and his Committee, to which I referred, that sprays that will be harmful to bees should not be used, if possible, when crops are in flower: but the circumstances were exceptional this year, and we are discussing this difficult problem with those concerned.


My Lords, is it considered that the manufacturers' literature ever has emphasised or ever will emphasise sufficiently the dangers of the sprays?


My Lords, the manufacturers' literature certainly has emphasised, and certainly will emphasise, the dangers of these sprays.


My Lords, while appreciating the fact that the well-known firm of Messrs. Fison's have withdrawn all stocks and stopped distribution of their arsenical weed killers, is it not a fact that a far more serious and dangerous compound is the organo-phosphorous insecticide, which is toxic to mammals and birds, not only when eaten but also when absorbed through the skin and the eyes? Can Her Majesty's Government state what action, if any, has been taken to prohibit forthwith the supply and distribution of this lethal product?


My Lords, I am not qualified technically to state the various degrees of toxicity (if that is the right word) of these various chemicals used, but I can say that my right honourable friend is giving this whole matter his most urgent consideration. In relation to arsenical sprays, he has had recommendations from this Committee to which I have referred, and I hope he may very shortly be in a position to make a statement, which I cannot anticipate now. With regard to the general question of spray drift, for instance, to show that my right honourable friend views this matter most seriously he has charged me with a special Committee to go into this whole problem of spray drift, to see whether the dangers and risks can be minimised. But we must keep a sense of proportion here, my Lords. There are, of course, risks with all things, but we must not lose sight of the fact that the advantages of using chemicals in agriculture are also very great.


My Lords, is it not well known that most of these sprays are indiscriminate killers of living things, and that they not only destroy insects which are prejudicial to crops but also destroy insects which are beneficial? They destroy the predators upon the noxious insects. Is it not also the fact that the sprays fall into the soil, where they are accumulated, and that they are taken up into the system of the plant and are possible contaminants of food?


No, my Lords; most of these sprays are not indiscriminate killers.


My Lords, with the permission of the House, may I put a question to the noble and learned Viscount sitting on the Woolsack?




No? All right. Then may I ask the Government whether these beekeepers in Norfolk who have suffered a loss of £400 or £500 on their honey crops this year have any redress in law, to enable them to bring action for damages to recover this loss?


My Lords, I should have preferred notice of this question, but, speaking generally, if anyone suffers damage and can prove negligence on the part of those who caused the damage, there is always redress under the law.

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