HL Deb 11 December 1984 vol 458 cc127-39

3.3 p.m.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Belstead.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The LORD ABERDARE in the Chair.]

Clause 15 [Control of pesticides, etc.]:

Lord Gallacher moved Amendment No. 56A:

[Printed earlier: col. 1531.]

The noble Lord said: I spoke to Amendment No. 56A along with another amendment on the first day of the Committee stage of the Bill. In response, the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, said that he would have good news for me on Amendment No. 56A, and in order to receive that news I now beg to move Amendment No. 56A.

The Earl of Swinton

I am indeed most grateful to the noble Lord. As I in fact said on Amendment No. 5 I think I have better news on this one. I understand that the noble Lord may have indeed identified a weakness in the powers of disposal set out in Clause 15(1)(e). I should like to take this matter back again, discuss it further and probably come back with a suitably worded amendment to cover this point at Report.

Lord Gallacher

In the light of that assurance, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Craigton moved Amendment No. 57.

Page 13, line 20, after ("pesticide") insert ("or delivery device").

The noble Lord said: This subsection gives the Minister power to seize the pesticide or anything treated with it. But suppose the offence is to have used an unsuitable spray device with an otherwise suitable pesticide. Without this amendment, has the Minister power to seize that spray device? For instance, I am told that some farmers make their own spraying equipment and that such a power may be necessary. If the device used is in fact the guilty party and the pesticide used is not, then without my amendment the Minister's hands are tied as he has no power to seize the unoffending pesticide. This point must surely be allowed for in the Bill.

There is a secondary point, in that the provision now authorises the seizure of a device along with the pesticide. But that provision is unclear; I may be told that this can be done. If the Minister gave me an assurance on the second point, I would accept that; hut my amendment would clarify both points. I beg to move.

Lord Belstead

My noble friend has made two points in moving this amendment. I wonder whether I might take the second one first, which is the seizure point, which is in fact the effect of this amendment, and just say this in reply to my noble friend. I do not believe that it would be effective in this Bill if one was only to look at the delivery device. As I sought to say to the Committee last week, there is a whole variety of other reasons why spraying may not be up to standard. A machine may be eminently suitable for use with one product and may be totally unsuitable for use with another—a point which my noble friend made himself when speaking a moment ago. A machine which when correctly adjusted, maintained and used is eminently suitable as an applicator of a range of pesticides may be totally unsuitable and potentially dangerous if incorrectly adjusted and poorly maintained or misused.

Therefore, I really do think that to put a power of seizure of spraying equipment in the Bill would not only be very heavy-handed indeed but also would not be dealing with where the real problem lies. That leads me to the first point which my noble friend made in moving this amendment, which is whether there is a power to match the pesticides which are being used to the way in which they are being used. It is very firmly the Government's opinion that in order to ensure the safe use of pesticides machines must be matched to pesticides and the users instructed as to what machine to use and how to use it.

That is why, last week, in Committee, I gave an assurance that we intend to look at each chemical, either as a new product or on review, and approve each chemical in relation to safe application methods only. This will involve, in many cases, the specification of particular types of machine and the specification of how those machines must be adjusted and used.

I hope that answers my noble friend. We do, I believe, have the power in the Bill that he has asked that we should have, and therefore the amendment is not necessary. But in addition to that, the effect of his amendment would be to allow the seizure of spraying machines. I really do think that that would be a very big step which the Government would be extremely hesitant to take.

Lord Melchett

I think I am becoming a little clearer as to how the Government intend to tackle this problem of how pesticides are actually applied. I hope the noble Lord agrees with those of us who have already raised this point in Committee that this will very often be as important as the question which chemicals are applied, and for what purposes. However, I still personally do not follow what the noble Lord envisages happening if, once they have given a particular chemical clearance in the way he suggests, for use with particular sorts of machinery and in particular conditions or whatever, machinery is not used which is right for that chemical.

Suppose they have cleared the chemical for particular uses and it is then out on a farm being sold to farmers with inappropriate spray equipment, with spray equipment which is badly adjusted, or whatever. What happens at that point? I hope the noble Lord would agree that it cannot be enough just to clear the chemical. I really do not follow what steps will be taken when the chemical gets into the wrong machine.

Lord John-Mackie

This is a very difficult point. There is no doubt that you could not possibly fault the machine. It must be the operator who is ultimately at fault. Later in the Bill, there is an amendment to see that all operators are well trained. This should meet the point about ensuring that he would not use a faulty machine. If he is a certificated operator, that will solve the problem raised by the noble Lord, Lord Craigton.

The Earl of Onslow

It seems to me that there are two sides of this coin. Unless we have proper machinery, either it will put on too little of the dose or put on too much. If you put on too much, there is bound to be economic cost to the farmer, which he will learn the second time round, and there will also be environmental harm. It would seem that the follow-on is that you cannot avoid licensing machinery if you licence the stuff as well or give it some form of certificate of approval. This must be the right way to proceed. I should have thought that it was selling things under false pretences if there was not some form of approval.

Lord Stodart of Leaston

Listening to this debate, I have the horrible fear—I am sure it is not intended—that a farmer will possibly require different sprayers for different chemicals. That would virtually put spraying by the farmer or his men out of existence. It would become totally uneconomic. Sprayers are expensive machines. The task would therefore be almost certain to pass into the hands of contractors. It could be argued that this might be a good step. It would mean that the task was being done by highly skilled people. I agree, however, with the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, that if too much liquid is put on, more gallons per acre than is the recommended dose, that is not the fault of the machine; it is the fault of the operator in using the wrong size of jets. We shall be discussing later matters such as the licensing of operators. The supervision lies in the human element and not in the condemnation or seizure of the machines.

Lord Somers

It is easy, I suggest, to have an adjustable spray. This is used, for instance, on machines for spraying various weedkillers on lawns. It can also apply perfectly well to a spray.

Lord Craigton

Regrettably, I do not find the Minister's reply very satisfactory. I hope that he will read the debate. To me, the insecticide and the sprayer used are one and the same in respect of the instructions of the Ministry as to what should be done to protect crops. If there is a fault in one, there can equally be a fault in the other. I am not at all satisfied. I shall have to look at the matter before Report stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

3.15 p.m.

Lord Melchett moved Amendment No. 58:

Page 13, line 21, after ("used") insert ("from land, water or air").

The noble Lord said: We are to have a debate on aerial spraying on Amendment No. 68; so I do not intend to raise that point on this amendment that is designed purely to get information from the Minister. I should like to restrict myself to the question of spraying from water. As the noble Lord will know, quite a lot of spraying applications are carried out on water, although nothing like the amount carried out on land. The spraying, from specially constructed boats, of herbicides in watercourses has become more frequent. In some areas like Romney Marsh and the Somerset Levels, conservationists fear considerable damage has been done. I hope that the noble Lord can assure me that where spraying is carried out over water from a boat, the powers in the Bill are sufficient to ensure that any regulations that the Government bring forward will cover those operations. I beg to move.

The Earl of Onslow

I should like to support the noble Lord. I declare an interest. I carry out a considerable amount of spraying of chemicals into water for clearing a fishing lake. It is infinitely easier to be careless and irresponsible in spraying on to water than it is over land. I have had the experience recently of being sold a chemical and being told verbally by the Ministry of Agriculture and the company concerned that it was free and available for use and then being told by the Thames Water Authority that under no circumstances was Ito use it, even though it had been cleared for use in the United States of America. It is important that the regulations in this case should be extremely strict and clear.

Lord Belstead

The answer to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, is that, yes indeed, there is power in the Bill to do what he has suggested and, indeed, to do what my noble friend Lord Onslow suggests. I do not think that on this amendment I should go much further. I wonder, however, in courtesy to the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, whether I may answer a question that he raised on the previous amendment. I was rather slow to my feet and failed to reply to it. The answer again is very short. If there is misuse of machinery on the farm, the answer is that those who are responsible for enforcement and who have powers to sanction enforcement under Clause 17 in Part III of the Bill—namely, the health and safety inspectors—would be those responsible for checking up.

Lord Melchett

I am grateful to the noble Lord. I shall not pursue the point arising from the previous amendment now, although I register my continuing disquiet about the route that the Government have chosen. On the particular amendment that we are discussing, I am grateful for the Minister's assurance and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Nicol moved Amendment No. 59:

Page 13, line 35, at end insert (", and if any pesticide has been exported from the United Kingdom in contravention of any such prohibition or condition either of the Ministers may require that it shall be returned to the United Kingdom")

The noble Baroness said: This amendment was associated with Amendment No. 50, which the Minister has undertaken to reconsider. I wonder whether he can give an assurance that when reconsidering Amendment No. 50 he will also reconsider the sense of a proposal to prevent pesticides which had been refused by an importing country reentry into this country, which would be rather a ludicrous situation. I wonder whether the Minister will take on board the sense of the amendment and consider both at the same time. I beg to move.

Lord Renton

Although I was glad to support the noble Baroness on Amendment No. 50, I am afraid that there is a reason why this one could surely not be accepted by the Government. The noble Baroness is asking that Ministers may require somebody abroad to return something to the United Kingdom. Ministers would have no authority and no power to require that this should be done. I feel therefore that my noble friend the Minister will have to be very cautious before he says anything encouraging the acceptance of this amendment or anything like it.

The Earl of Onslow

There is a lovely idea, which I have suddenly seen, presented by this amendment. This foul, noxious stuff produced in a tin distillery in the back streets of Bolton is exported to some obscure third world country which says, "No, we don't want it", although it is allowed to be exported. But then, if the Minister has the power to ban imports of stuff, it cannot come back in again. So where, pray, does it go?

Lord Belstead

First, it would be churlish if I did not say to the noble Baroness, who, on the extremely difficult Amendment No. 50, said that she would be prepared to await the next stage of the Bill before the Government replied, that I shall do my best to consider this amendment in conjunction with Amendment No. 50. There are, however, two problems. One has had the finger put on it by my noble friend Lord Renton and the other by my noble friend Lord Onslow. Indeed, so far as my noble friend Lord Onslow is concerned, there could be a rather difficult yo-yo effect.

I was reminded as the noble Baroness was speaking of the situation (which I think was the subject of a poem many years ago) of the man who presented himself at the gates of Heaven and was asked whether he had done anything very good in his life, and he said no he could not think of anything very good that he had done. So he was refused entry. He then went to another place and was asked if there was anything very bad that he had done, and he could not think of anything very bad he had done, either. He found himself very much in the position which I think my noble friend the Earl of Onslow foresees under Amendment No. 59.

Having said that, we certainly will have a look at it. Nonetheless, as the noble Baroness knows, there are very great difficulties so far as our consideration of exports is concerned, but I am looking at the question genuinely.

Baroness Nicol

I understand the spirit in which the Minister has made his offer and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Melchett moved Amendment No. 60:

Page 13, line 35, at end insert— (" ( ) impose conditions on the use of pesticides on any land which forms part of, or is adjacent to, a highway (including a footpath or bridleway) or is land to which the public have a right of access for open-air recreation;").

The noble Lord said: This amendment deals with the question of the application of pesticides on rights of way, or land which is adjacent to rights of way. I put it down because I think it is fair to say there is now growing and widespread concern among people who walk in the countryside about the adverse effect that they are finding from contact with pesticides while exercising their legitimate rights to walk—or to ride if it is a bridleway—down a right of way in the countryside. It is of course possible that spraying on a right of way might amount to an illegal obstruction, or at least a nuisance, but there is no case law on the subject and it would clearly be a difficult case to try, in particular because of the difficulty of proving the presence of pesticide in a particular crop especially as the effects of contact with the crop and the pesticide may not be apparent immediately as the person is walking.

However, it is clear that this concern is not simply something which is felt by walkers in the countryside. A farmer in Hertfordshire earlier this year actually gave a letter to local school children in the area where he farmed to suggest that they and their parents and animals should be kept away from local footpaths for a period of time because spraying was about to take place. This, on the one hand, was I suppose very praiseworthy action by the farmer to try and avoid young children and animals—pets—and so on coming into contact with fields that have been sprayed. On the other hand, it is clearly a quite illegal attempt to deny people a public right of access. It is as illegal as it would be for a farmer to put a notice out saying that he did not want people to drive down the M.1 next week because he would be straw or stubble burning and the smoke might obscure the road. A public highway is a public highway. It seems to me that there is a very clear conflict; a conflict of which many farmers are conscious, and of which walkers are becoming increasingly conscious.

If I could just give another couple of examples of recent injuries suffered by walkers, near Cambridge this year two women were walking on a footpath alongside a field which had been sprayed with a fungicide. They suffered a severe rash and burning sensations to the legs. Two young puppies that were with them—on a lead I hasten to add—suffered considerable ill effects including severe thirst which lasted for several days.

A member of the Ramblers Association in Kent was recently discussing with a local farmer the possibility of diverting a footpath which ran through an orchard so that it would be alongside it. The farmer's reason for wishing to divert the public right of way was that the apple trees were going to be sprayed regularly—in fact up to 28 applications between April and October if a MAFF advisory booklet was followed—and some of these chemicals were extremely dangerous. I should remind noble Lords that at the time of this discussion the footpath ran through the middle of the apple orchard—and may still do so if the diversion has not been put into effect—and the farmer in that case was telling the local representative of the Ramblers Association that some of these chemicals that he would be spraying and had been spraying on the apple trees were extremely dangerous. Indeed, one of the containers had a skull and crossbones prominently marked on it.

In these circumstances where there is clearly a degree of confusion—some clear evidence of suffering on the part of those exercising their local rights to use public rights of way, and concern, rightly, from the farming community—it seems to me that it would be sensible for the position to be clarified. Spraying with the sorts of pesticides now in use can be very dangerous. Operators working the machinery often have to wear overalls, rubber boots, rubber gloves, respirators, and so on. It cannot be right that those chemicals can be applied to fields often with crops growing across a public right of way on which members of the public are free to walk immediately after the spraying operation has taken place.

There is a conflict here. It seems to me quite clear that what is needed in the Bill—or if not in the Bill, in the regulations—is a provision to ensure that no dangerous chemicals are placed in areas where members of the public are likely to come into contact when exercising their lawful rights. I beg to move.

Lord John-Mackie

This is also a very difficult question and I quite see the concern of the ramblers and walkers in the countryside, particularly if they read some of what look to me to be scare stories about what sprays can do, although I agree with my noble friend that there are a lot of dangerous sprays used. Perhaps I could give my own experience. I have 6,000 yards of footpaths through my farm of 430 arable acres. Nevertheless, if I could not spray these, every yard that I do not spray is an acre and a half unsprayed. I remember an occasion when, because of a tree, we missed a small portion of a wheat field when spraying for aphides; and they spread like lightning that year. It was a very bad year for aphides. It would be very difficult in my case to miss areas round footpaths—and I suspect in the case of many farmers as well.

The point that I should like to make is that I have been spraying on this farm, which is 20 miles from where your Lordships are sitting. We get a lot of walkers, and I have never had a complaint of any description about spraying, and we use all the various sprays for arable crops. I agree that something should be done but I would rather my noble friend had pinpointed a little more what he would like done and had not just left it to the Minister to say that he should put something in regulations. I feel that in spite of what he says the display of notices saying that spraying has taken place would be something that could be done. As it happens most of the footpaths on my farm are wide enough so that no one needs to touch the crops at all.

I suspect that in one of the cases that he mentioned, walkers had been going round the field at the particular time of the year when nettles, and what we call cleavers or sticky willies, were about, and the result might have been the prickles of that on their legs because I cannot think in this particular case—which has had wide publicity—that a week after spraying fungicide it could have done harm to people's legs. But I agree that there has been publicity and I feel something should be done. I feel there should be notification by signposts of some description to say that spraying has taken place in order to warn people to keep to the footpath, which in the regulations should be wide enough to prevent people actually walking into the crops.

Lord Stanley of Alderley

I do not much like this amendment—in fact, I do not like it at all. The noble Lord, Lord Melchett, is really trying to throw the baby out with the bath water again. If it is dangerous to spray near a footpath the Minister has powers to stop us, as he told my noble friend Lord Craigton in an earlier amendment.

Secondly, if damage is done to that individual person walking down the footpath, as the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, said, with a fungicide—I agree with the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, I am surprised it was a fungicide—then that person has a perfect case in law to bring a case against the farmer. But the reason that I really object to this amendment is that it would cause irritation, indeed near panic, that all spraying—even though I know the amendment does not say this—near rights of way would or could be stopped. This would encourage the eco-rambler—I do not mean the proper rambler; I welcome him—to cause great trouble in the farming community. This would be most regrettable, bearing in mind the great progress that has been made over the last five years to get farmers to open their farms to the public and the good attitude that the great majority of ramblers and other people who walk in the country have towards farmers. I have great experience of them, farming, as I do, quite close to Oxford.

3.30 p.m.

Lord Northbourne

The present network of rights of way across farmland in this country was designed for a system of farming which is very different from the system we follow today. If the Ramblers Association were prepared to be more flexible than they have been historically in agreeing to divert footpaths onto equally good and equally long routes more suited to public rambling, and more suited also to the use of the land for modern farming, then I am sure that it would be easier for the farming community to avoid any contact by the rambling public with spray.

The Earl of Onslow

I think there is just a little in what the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, says. I am awfully pleased that we have now had an eco-rambler joining with the eco-freaks; that is a great advantage. Would it not be possible to think along the lines of making sure that spraying is not done near footpaths on Sundays, and not done in the middle of the day? There obviously is some cause for concern. We, as farmers, must show some consideration for others. I can hear in the background my noble friend Lord Stanley saying, "No, no, no", which is an unfortunate attitude for the farmers to take because it gives us a bad name, which I do not want. That is my view.

Lord Walston

I have some sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, and rather more sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley. This is surely a question of balance. I think it would be wrong for farmers to be able, at will and without any warning, to spray dangerous chemicals over a footpath, but I think it is impractical to follow the suggestion put forward in the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Melchett. Would it not be possible for a list to be prepared by the Ministry of Agriculture of those sprays which are potentially dangerous to human beings or animals, on contact, and then to lay it down that when such chemicals are used on a field or an orchard adjacent to a footpath the farmer should be obliged to put up a notice at each end of the footpath saying that he has sprayed these chemicals on such-and-such a date? The farmer should leave the notice up for however long it may be that the chemical has an adverse effect on passers-by.

I suggest that would cause the minimum of inconvenience to farmers and make certain that no inconvenience is caused to the legitimate users of the footpath. It would also meet the point which the noble Lord, Lord Stanley, has raised—that one does not want to have antagonism between ramblers, users of footpaths, and the owners of the land and the cultivators of the land. There must be goodwill between them. That would be put in jeopardy by this amendment, but not by some form of modification such as I have suggested.

Lord Henley

Following on from the noble Lord, Lord Walston, I should like to ask whether this amendment is really necessary at all. I think that paragraph (c) already gives the Minister power to impose conditions. Would not that be enough for him to lay down regulations to the effect that notices be put up or that certain sprays should not be used near the highway?

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

My noble friend Lord Stanley expressed the fear that people might become so alarmed that all sprays were dangerous that the whole fun would go out of rambling. I should like to point out that not all people exploring the countryside are on rights of way or belong to the Ramblers Association. On my farm there is a camp site where 2,000 young people come every year. They have permission to go on a whole lot of routes across ground which does not include public rights of way or highways. If they became alarmed that every field they went into which has been sprayed was dangerous, I do not think the experience would be any fun at all. Should there be chemicals which are known to be dangerous to walk across, they would of course be told. No sensible farmer who welcomed them would fail to do that. The whole thing is not quite as cut and dried as the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, thinks.

Lord Belstead

I think the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, my noble friend Lord Stanley and the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, have put their finger on perhaps the main problem with this amendment, which is that it calls for conditions without stating what the conditions should be. That I think was perhaps more implicit in what the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, was saying, but it was explicit in what the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, and my noble friend Lord Stanley said. Indeed, the noble Lord on the Front Bench opposite was quite explicit when he said that, with the best will in the world, with the enormous number of footpaths running across his own farm, if there were really stringent conditions, this could have a very serious effect on his farming operations; and that he would regret this because he felt that he had taken sufficient care and his relations with the local people who are walking on his land were of such a nature that it would not be necessary. So, if I may say so, I think that is the difficulty.

My noble friend Lord Henley is of course quite right in saying that there is a power in the Bill to do what the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, would be asking for; it is to be found in Clause 15(1)(c). But, with the best will in the world, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, that I think it is difficult, in view of the speeches which have been made, to support this amendment when, as I say, the conditions are not set out. Although the noble Lord was eloquent as to the problems, as he saw them, I do not think he actually gave the Committee very much of a lead as to the conditions he would like to see imposed.

However, having said that, I wonder whether I can be a little more helpful and say that, under the Pesticides Safety Precautions Scheme, pesticides are indeed scrutinised very closely today. The potential risks are evaluated to include those to bystanders as well as to users, and these evaluations will most certainly continue under the statutory scheme; and of course they would be backed up, if this Bill becomes law, by powers to control application on the ground where that would be seen to be necessary. That could be done through codes of practice, and in the statement of intention which I circulated to your Lordships on Thursday of last week we make it absolutely clear, in paragraph 11, that the Government would be looking very seriously at the need for codes of practice following the passage of this Bill.

Perhaps I could consider the suggestion which was made by the noble Lord, Lord Walston, and see whether that is something we ought to think about for the future or, indeed, for a code. I like to think that what my noble friend Lady Carnegy said is the case—that any good farmer should be making it known to people who are camping on the land or are known to be on the land, or who could be coming across the land, that there is a need to beware in a particular circumstance.

Before I finish, I should like to say that we should not run away with the idea that sometimes we are not all, as members of the general public, told to take care. We are sometimes told to take care if we are passing a building which has scaffolding around it. We are sometimes told to take care if somebody has dug a hole in the road. I see nothing reprehensible, if I may say so, on behalf of the farming community, in putting a notice up sometimes, if it is necessary, to say that those who are crossing the land should be aware of a particular factor. As to whether it would be right to do it in the way that the noble Lord. Lord Walston, has suggested, that is something which, if the noble Lord will allow me to do so, I should like to reflect on.

Lord Maude of Stratford-upon-Avon

I do hope that my noble friend the Minister will very seriously consider the proposal put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Walston. To take but one example, where a pesticide has been sprayed and it is dangerous to animals it is very important for people taking dogs for a walk in the country to know the situation. Most people with any sense keep their dog on a lead on a footpath in a field where, for example, there are sheep, but they do not do so in an open field where there are no sheep. The dog is likely to be off the lead and wandering around the field probably covering 10 times as much distance as the owner walks. But I think that most sensible people would say that if they could see a notice saying that a dangerous pesticide had been sprayed on the field they would then put their dog on a lead and keep it to the footpath throughout, and I think that that would be very sensible and helpful.

Lord Belstead

I have said that the Government will look at the suggestion which the noble Lord, Lord Walston, made, particularly in view of the probability that legislation—if it reaches the statute book—will almost certainly be the subject of some forms of codes of practice. But that is in the future. I hope that that undertaking is acceptable to my noble friend Lord Maude.

Lord Melchett

We have had a longer debate on the amendment than I had expected. I should like to make three points before I withdraw the amendment. First, with respect, I think that it is a bit of a cheek for the Government to say that my amendment is not nearly specific enough about what type of conditions I want to see imposed, when their own Bill has been criticised from all sides of the Committee on the grounds that it gives them very wide powers to make regulations without their saying what they intend to put in those regulations in detail at all. I was simply following a lead which the Government had so ably given in taking the widest possible powers and not attempting to be specific in my amendments. So it really is a bit much. Half the time the noble Lord is saying that all the amendments are much too specific and will tie his hands, and now he is turning round and saying that the amendment is much too general and that I have got to say what I mean. I tabled the amendment because I wanted to make sure—and I think that it quite clearly does this—that the Government have power to impose conditions if they are necessary. That will change over time, as the noble Lord has not hesitated to tell us on numerous occasions when debating other amendments.

The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, raised the question of diverting paths which go across fields to field edges so that they take—to use what I think was his phrase—a more sensible route in view of modern conditions. It is true that for many years the Ramblers Association agreed very readily to such diversions. The Ramblers Association only recently changed its policy in this regard and it has done so because it found that field edge paths, which had been created as a result of such diversions, were regularly being ploughed out.

It is legal to plough a path which goes across the middle of a field, but it is against the criminal law to plough a path which goes along the edge of a field, and it is also against the law to plant such a path with a crop.

Two of the incidents of which I have heard where people have been adversely affected by pesticides, and which I did not have time to mention when introducing the amendment, actually concerned such cases, and they both arose in Lincolnshire. The first concerned a group of people who last spring walked around the edge of a field on a public right of way which had been illegally planted with a cereal crop. They suffered a severe rash and intense irritation on their legs for about seven days. I have a photograph of a path, again going along the side of a field and again in Lincolnshire in the parish of Deeping St. James, where a notice has been erected at the entrance to a field of oil seed rape, warning people of the danger of pesticides. The height and thickness of the oil seed rape crop is such that it would be physically impossible to walk along the footpath around the edge of the field without coming into contact with the crop.

On the question of notices, which a number of noble Lords raised, I point out to the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, that when he considers the situation I think that he will find that it is a dangerous route to go down. It seems to me that we shall get into exactly the same problem as we have with farmers putting bulls in fields which are crossed by public footpaths and where the Ramblers Association's advice to walkers is to trespass rather than run the risk of serious injury by entering the field. Moreover, in doing so they are also following advice from the Health and Safety Executive, which says that all bulls are dangerous and none should be trusted to be safe.

The fact of the matter is that if a group of ramblers had been walking since, let us say, early in the morning on a hot summer's day for several miles along a linear route where there are no opportunities to turn off and they are a couple of hundred yards from a pub at lunch time, but come across a notice on, for example, Lord Walston's farm (or for that matter anybody else's farm) which says, "Danger. Pesticides in this field"—the last field which they have to cross before they can get to the pub—they will either cross it nevertheless, or go round the edge of another field and trespass on the noble Lord's land. Either of those outcomes seems to me to be undesirable from both the walkers' and the farmers' point of view. So I do not think that erecting notices which imply that a legal right is in some way being withdrawn, will do.

3.45 p.m.

I assumed that the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, was saying that we have to walk around scaffolding on a footpath in a town. If a public footpath in a town or on a highway of any type is blocked up, the people who block it have to get permission to do so and they usually have to provide safe alternatives. That is why one sees around building sites special corridors set aside for pedestrians. If that were done in this case, if a safe alternative route was provided by the farmer around the field that was sprayed, I do not think that any sensible walker would object. They would not object to what in other words is a temporary diversion. But that is different from putting up a notice which purports to deny people their legal rights. I do not think that notices of that nature will provide a solution—they will make matters worse. I hope that the noble Lord will bear that in mind when he considers this point. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Earl of Swinton

I think that this might be a convenient moment to take the first Statement. I therefore beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.