HL Deb 17 July 1980 vol 411 cc1943-6

3.11 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 will now transfer the functions of the Pesticides Advisory Committee to the Health and Safety Executive.


My Lords, Her Majesty's Government have no plans to transfer the functions of the Advisory Committee on Pesticides to the Health and Safety Executive.


My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for that precise and simple Answer. Is he aware that the motive force behind the Question is the fact that the Pesticides Advisory Committee does not include a representative of the National Union of Agricultural and Allied Workers, and that the committee treats in a rather off-hand manner the results of spraying what is known as 2,4,5-T weedkiller, which contains the poison dioxin? Consequently, the committee has taken an attitude which seven nations in the world have not taken. For instance, Sweden, Norway, the United States of America, Holland and other countries in the European Community have banned the use of this weedkiller. Finally, and without boring the noble Earl, may I say that there is a belief that the 200 children who were taken ill the other day may have been suffering from the effects of the spraying of weedkiller. The public should know the true answer.


Oddly enough, my Lords, I was aware of what motivated the noble Lord to ask the Question. I can tell him that in the consideration of any pesticide, as with any chemical such as a medicine or a veterinary medicine, it is essential that the result should be scientific, unbiased and impartial, and should also be clinical. That is what the Advisory Committee on Pesticides does. As the noble Lord said, the advisory committee does not include any representatives of the National Union of Agricultural and Allied Workers, and indeed I think that it would he wrong if it did. However, the Health and Safety Executive is involved in it in so far as three members are on the advisory committee and one member is on the technical secretariat of the Pesticides Safety Precaution Scheme.


My Lords, can the noble Earl say when the last report of the Advisory Committee on Pesticides was published? The noble Earl's predecessor was good enough to let me have a copy of the committee's report of March 1979. It was a very able report, on which I was able to raise a debate in this House in which due respect was paid to the eminence and the independence of the members of this committee.

Is the noble Earl aware that in the last month the international report on the explosion at Seveso has been considered at a meeting in Brussels and that France has announced that she will not follow the report, nor adopt any of the recommendations, nor commit herself to any action so far as she is concerned? Is the noble Earl further aware that the Forestry Commission, which can hardly claim to be unbiased in the matter, has published its own report? We are receiving a mass of paper, and nobody knows who is doing the monitoring and who is examining each of the many complaints as they come in. Is it not time that the Advisory Committee on Pesticides met urgently and considered the evidence that has recently come to hand?


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hale, is perfectly correct; the last report of the Advisory Committee was in March 1979. My right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture has asked the committee again to consider all the evidence, including the evidence of the National Union of Agricultural and Allied Workers where it is concerned. The committee is doing this at the moment, and it will make a report when it has concluded its investigations.


My Lords, does my noble friend agree that this advisory committee, which has done such good work over very many years, could well be taken by other members of the European Community as an example of how this task can well and inexpensively be carried out?


My Lords, I entirely agree with my noble friend. I wish to add that in this scientific area, in which there is much concern felt by people, whether we accept or reject a product, it is absolutely essential that the decision be made on scientific grounds, not on grounds based on opinion or concern, no matter how strong they may be.


My Lords, finally, whatever the European Community or the European agricultural workers or others may say, the fact is that there are six or seven nations—

Several noble Lords: Question!


My Lords, is it not a fact—I had to turn around only one word—that even the United States of America has banned the use of this pesticide? We should be aware of that fact and do something more about it.


My Lords, we are entirely aware of the fact that in this country we must decide matters on their merits. All I can tell the noble Lord is that all these matters are being considered. We have asked the advisory committee to consider all the evidence yet again, and I suggest that it would be quite inappropriate that the Government should accept or reject a particular product simply because there is what one might describe as understandable emotion building up about it. The matter must be decided on scientific grounds; and that is what we are doing.


My Lords, can the noble Earl tell us which particular kind of pest this advisory committee deals with?


My Lords, the advisory committee deals with all pesticides, as opposed merely to pests.