HL Deb 11 December 1984 vol 458 cc146-56

4.15 p.m.

House again in Committee on Clause 15.

Lord Craigton moved Amendment No. 61:

Page 13, line 35, at end insert— ("( ) provide for the inspection of pesticide application and delivery devices;").

The noble Lord said: With the approval of the Committee, I should like to discuss this amendment with Amendment No. 109.

Amendment No. 109: Page 15, line 29, after ("pesticide") insert ("or delivery device").

First, dealing with Amendment No. 61, at column 1539 my noble friend Lord Belstead said, on 6th December: It is our intention that the Government look under the statutory scheme at each chemical, either as a new product, or on review, and consider the likely machinery by which the product will be applied". I repeat those words: and consider the likely machinery by which the product will be applied".

Consideration is impossible without inspection. This amendment includes inspection in the regulations, which must give power to inspect in any case if the purpose of this Bill is to be fulfilled. That is the reason for my first amendment.

Turning to Amendment No. 109, such official consideration and inevitable inspection must, as the Seventh Report of the Royal Commission wished, lead to improvements in the devices used. So it is logical to ask the manufacturer of the device to pay for its approval or consideration just as the chemical manufacturer pays for his pesticide approval under this Bill. In effect, what I am saying is that delivery devices should be approved after inspection for which the manufacturer of the device should be charged. I do not think the Bill permits this now. I beg to move.

Lord Belstead

For reasons which I have already sought to put before the Committee, I do not take the same view as my noble friend, that it would be practicable to introduce an inspection system for spraying machines. That does not mean that the overall objective of my noble friend and the Government is not the same. We agree that the need is to ensure that pesticides are only applied through machinery which is appropriate and safe for the purpose. We are agreed on the ends; we are only at a difference on the means.

As I see it there are two problems here. The first is the one which I have already endeavoured to explain to your Lordships; that it is not just a question of looking at a machine and deciding whether it passes an inspection, because once the machine is out in the field there are a whole host of other factors which will affect the effectiveness with which the machine is being used.

The second problem is that this would amount to an MoT system for sprayers involving a vast number of officers who, I suggest to my noble friend, would be much better employed making sure that the farmers and contractors used the equipment they had with the appropriate chemicals—I stress "with the appropriate chemicals"—and in the correct way.

I am not simply saying that for something to say because in Clause 17(4) and (5) we find that the officers who will enforce Part III of the Bill, who will be health and safety at work officers, will have powers to impose improvement and prohibition notices on anyone who uses pesticides in a way likely to create a hazard. Thus anyone using a machine incorrectly or using an unsuitable machine could be told that he could not continue to use that machine while it remained in that condition or that he would need to have some instruction on the correct use of the machine. I feel that in taking those powers, we have gone about as far as it is reasonable to take the powers of the Government in this matter.

I very much regret having to say that because the objectives of the Government are exactly the same as those of my noble friend Lord Craigton; nonetheless, we feel that to set up a testing system for spraying machines is something which would hardly be practicable.

Lord Melchett

May I ask the noble Lord a question about this aspect? What would be the situation if a farmer bought a pesticide application system, a sprayer or whatever, from a manufacturer? In the hypothetical case that I am suggesting it would probably be a small manufacturer. The manufacturer sold the farmer that machine as being appropriate and safe for use with a whole range of herbicides. The farmer then used the machine for applying a whole range of herbicides. A health and safety inspector saw the farmer at work with the machine, stopped the farmer working and said, "This machine is neither appropriate nor safe for use with herbicides. It should not be used to apply herbicides at all. It is completely wrong for that. You have broken the law and I am going to prosecute you. You must stop using the machine immediately".

I understand that the farmer would have a case in civil law against the manufacturer, for he had been sold something which was not right. But the farmer at that stage would be in the process of being prosecuted under the criminal law, as I understand it. Would the farmer have a defence against the criminal charge that he had bought the machine in good faith from a manufacturer who had said that it was appropriate and safe for use with a herbicide and therefore that let him off the hook? His "due care and diligence" had been exercised simply by his accepting the manufacturer's word. Or would that not be a sufficient defence for the farmer?

Lord Belstead

I shall give the noble Lord a reply which I often find myself giving to those who write to Government departments—and I know that the noble Lord has probably done the same in his time in the past: Consult a really good solicitor and then await the decision of the court.

Lord Craigton

The Government are missing a very great opportunity here to follow the suggestion and advice of the Royal Commission in its 7th Report, which drew the attention of the public to the fact that you can get the same value from spraying with one-fifth of the amount of pesticide if you use the right sprayer. The burden of the Royal Commission's complaint was that not enough enthusiasm was behind the improvement of the sprayer and there was no push from the Government or really from anybody else because the incentive is to use more pesticide and not less—because that is the incentive of the manufacturer. I believe that the Government are missing a great opportunity in not putting into this Bill, not what I want but what the Royal Commission wants.

Lord Melchett

Before the noble Lord withdraws his amendment, is it good enough to say to all the farmers who are potentially affected by this power that the Government are taking that if they get into trouble they should consult a solicitor and await to see what the courts decide? This is a fundamental point. The Government are aiming their controls on application techniques at the farmers, making sure that farmers use due care and diligence in applying pesticides, and they have said (as the noble Lord has just said) that it will be too unwieldy to try to test machinery when the manufacturers are responsible for it. They want to keep all their controls on the farmer.

In the case that I have suggested, it seems to me quite possible that the controls would not bite anywhere. The farmer would simply pass back the buck to the manufacturer, and the Government have decided not to look at all at what the manufacturers do. With respect to the noble Lord, I think that it is a more serious question than his initial reply suggested.

Lord Belstead

If I may intervene, the noble Lord was perfectly reasonable to put this point to me again. It gives me the opportunity to say that the Government feel very strongly that the responsibility for the safe use of pesticides has to rest with the user. I have deployed the reasons why we feel that, but we do feel deeply. So far as the hypothetical case which the noble Lord has put to me is concerned, I was not meaning to be flippant. After all, if the noble Lord or I were to have the misfortune to go out in a car, to be driving and to have a very bad accident, it would be a matter for the courts to decide where the responsibility lay if we then started to argue that either our steering had gone wrong or the brakes had failed. I really could not from this Box conceivably give a different answer from the one I gave the noble Lord to the issue which was put to me. Having said that, I take the point that the noble Lord is concerned about where the control should lie. I hope that the noble Lord will not mind my saying that, even having listened to this debate, I feel that the Government are right in saying that the point of control ought to be with the user.

Lord Broxbourne

Does my noble friend appreciate that, so far from his original answer being flippant, it gave a very precise and informed assessment of the constitutional relationship between Parliament and the courts?

Lord Craigton

In view of that reply, which had nothing at all to do with my amendment, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Walston moved Amendment No. 62:

Page 13, line 36, leave out from ("much") to ("and") in line 37 and insert ("and when a pesticide may be used on crops, food or feeding stuff and how much residue may be left;").

The noble Lord said: The object of this amendment is no more than to strengthen the clause to which it refers. We are in complete agreement with what the clause is trying to do, but it is difficult from the point of view of the grower to decide how much of a pesticide is eventually going to be left in the crop which is in question. It would be a very considerable help from the grower's point of view, and make the application of this regulation more effective in our view, if the amendment were adopted so that there would be guidance from the Government as to the quantities and the timing of the application that can safely be used without leaving undue amounts of residue in the crop. I would remind the Minister, as doubtless he knows, that all of Clause 15 is permissive; it is only that the Minister "may" do this and not that he is forced to do it. As I say, it is purely because we are in sympathy with what he is trying to do that we are putting forward this amendment, in the hope that he will consider it will make the clause as it stands somewhat more effective.

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Aberdare)

If this amendment is agreed to, I cannot call Amendments Nos. 63 or 64.

Baroness Robson of Kiddington

I should like very much to support this amendment because it appears to us that to attack the problem as it does in the Bill is to attack the problem from the wrong end. There is an additional benefit in the Minister having the right to set the maximum use of pesticides. It does not only mean that the Minister can set the maximum use; he can also set the minimum use; and that is desperately important. We all know that using a pesticide, and using too little, raises the risk of building up immunity and resistance in both pest and pathogen targets. It is important that if the farmer perhaps is trying to save money and would use too little, he realises that to do so is just as important as using too much. I believe, therefore, that the amendment has a lot to recommend it.

The Earl of Radnor

If I may say so, I have sympathy with parts of this amendment. It has certain faults to it. I shall take up a point raised by the noble Baroness opposite and say that it is very important that minimums should not be specified so that people can experiment. I think a number of noble Lords would want to see if they can get the same results using less of the spray. I think it would inhibit that. The only other thing I would say is that I think that to ask the Minister to decide on the timing is very difficult indeed.

Lord Stanley of Alderley

I rather agree with my noble friend over the minimum, but I would rather leave this question to a later amendment when we are discussing it in full. But, either way, whether my noble friend on the Front Bench accepts this amendment or whether he leaves the Bill as it is, I should like to ask him three questions about which perhaps he can try to help me. First, who will enforce that a particular pesticide is being used correctly, so ensuring that the right residue, or no more than the right residue, is left in the crop? I ask this particularly with regard to gardens. I should like to know what is my noble friend's view over gardens. I cannot believe that there can be a single noble Lord here who gardens who has not over-dosed, and vastly over-dosed, his garden with chemicals at some stage. I should like to know how the Government are going to deal with that particular problem.

Then I should like to ask my noble friend about the position of the farmer who is found to have too much residue in his crop. Whose fault is it if he can prove that he has used the chemical according to the instructions? I will not ask my noble friend to go too far down this road, but I am particularly worried about my noble friend's Amendment No. 129 knocking out "due diligence", which, as the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, pointed out, was a defence. But it will not be a defence if my noble friend's amendment is accepted. I hope that we shall be able to deal with that particular problem then, if my noble friend does not want to answer it now.

Finally, I must ask my noble friend how he is going to deal with the problem of residues left by imported chemicals. I accept that imported chemicals must be made safe, but it is of equal importance that the maximum residues that are decided here must be similar to those decided among our continental friends. Otherwise British agriculture will again be unfairly prejudiced.

4.30 p.m.

Lord Belstead

If I may say so, I think this is an interesting amendment. I was interested in particular in what seemed to he an amendment which proposed what your Lordships wished; namely, to write into the Bill a power to set limits for residues and, more importantly—this is what the noble Baroness and the noble Lord were chiefly speaking about—to specify when pesticides may be used on food crops or on feeding stuffs. Then when the noble Baroness, Lady Robson, started talking about "minimum amounts" I felt that there was an uneasy stirring around me and the feeling came again, at any rate to some of my noble friends, along the lines of, "Are we not beginning to tie the farming community up so tightly by what we are suggesting that we ought to take care?" Whether or not that is the case, it leads me to the conclusion that, if we can, I think it is better to try to leave the statements in this Bill in broad terms before coming down to making the detailed regulations later, which the Government have promised over and over again will be done only after consultations with all the various interested parties.

However, if the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Walston, feel that I am entirely avoiding the issue of their amendment in saying that, may I remind them that the statement of intention which I circulated on Thursday of last week explains the sorts of requirements and precautions which might be laid on pesticide users as conditions of use. Some examples arc given in paragraph 11 of that statement, and I am very ready to say that a specification of when a pesticide should be used could well be added to the requirements which would still be under the regulations; for instance, not using a spray when a crop is in flower, or not using a spray so many weeks before the harvesting of the crop. I believe I am right in saying that sometimes labels display a requirement that a spray should not be used longer than a certain period after coming out of store.

Also, it would be possible, following the thrust of this amendment, to have cases where a certain pesticide might or might not be used. Here again, an obvious example is that as the law stands at the moment—there is an amendment down regarding this which we shall come to a little later—Warfarin can be used for grey squirrel control, certainly in England and I believe also in Wales. But, as I understand it, there are certain counties where the red squirrel is still to be found, and great care has to be taken in the use of Warfarin. However, if I may say so, the issues of when and where a pesticide can be used certainly could be part of the regulations which would be brought in under the powers of the Bill.

Perhaps before I sit down I might add another point. This is an amendment which also mentions residue limits. I would simply say that we are taking powers in this Bill, as your Lordships know, to enable us to set legal residue limits for the first time; this is in Clause 15(1)(g). We may also need to implement European Community agreements on residues, which will facilitate trade. If the noble Baroness and the noble Lord will allow me to say so, I do not think there is anything very much in this amendment with which I would disagree, except that we immediately get into difficulties when we try to become too specific in the Bill.

My noble friend Lord Stanley asked three specific questions. The first was: who will enforce the residue limits? As I have already said to the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, the Health and Safety Executive officers are responsible for enforcement under Part but this specific issue mentioned by my noble friend has yet to be determined. It is worth noting that local authorities, supported by public analysts, already have responsibilities under the Food Act 1984 and residue limits will serve to clarify the position on residues. This might well be dealt with in that particular way.

My noble friend also asked: what about the position of the domestic gardener? On residues, there is no real grounds for concern here, because when products are approved for domestic use full consideration is always given to the method of application and the safety of the user. It is of course important that gardeners should respect the instructions given for safe use.

Finally my noble friend asked: What about the residue limits on imported chemicals? It was felt that United Kingdom farmers should not be at a disadvantage compared with farmers in other countries. I assume that my noble friend is concerned here about the residues of chemicals in imported food. I must admit that no decision has yet been taken, so far as the Government are concerned, on the residues regulations: but it is likely that Community requirements will cause us to introduce residue limits on imported and exported foods. There is no danger of United Kingdom farmers being disadvantaged because an important part of the exercise on residues is harmonisation with Community standards which, by definition, means equality of treatment between different parts of the country.

Perhaps I may ask my noble friend to forgive me for not answering his question as to whether or not "due diligence" would be a defence if somebody is found to have in his crop residue limits which are too high. If I may, I would prefer to return to this when the subject arises, as I have no doubt it will, on a subsequent amendment.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, before the noble Baroness withdraws her amendment, I wonder whether I may proffer what I hope will be some constructive suggestions to my noble friend. I took the trouble to write to the German Agricultural Attaché, who has sent me a resumé of some of the German regulations. Since 1968 they have had this marvellous thing called Pflanzenschutzgesetz, which is the Plant Protection Act of 1968. They have powers; they can be used in some regions for some purposes, or under restricted conditions. So the Germans already, as I say, have these conditions and perhaps it might be worthwhile looking at the details of those regulations to see whether we can get some help or guidance from them.

The follow-up to that is that if we are to go for harmonisation of regulations and possibly variety, according to local conditions, this would seem to be a more helpful and constructive way to go about it, especially as it appears that very little harmonisation has been done. Again, according to the German Embassy, some progress has been made. Some things have been achieved; there have been, for instance, additives to food, and more feeding stuffs have been harmonised. But little has been done as regards pesticides, except in regard to some vegetables. One of the obvious problems with harmonisation lies in the control of pesticides, because the situation is so different in various member states. What I would hope is that when we get to the regulations and accept this particular aspect of them, we go for as much harmonisation as possible. This is a sensible thing to harmonise on; there is no question of sovereignty or anything like that being involved.

Lord John-Mackie

I feel there is a little difficulty in this amendment in terms of trying to decide how much residue would be left if you are spraying a different thickness of crop. I presume—although I am not sure whether I am right in this—that if you spray a thick crop of barley, there will be less residue, whereas with a thin crop you will very probably use the same amount of spray but the residue will be greater. So I feel that the amendment falls on that count alone.

Baroness Robson of Kiddington

I feel I must get to my feet again to defend my "minimum standards". I am sorry if it has been understood as being a bar to experimenting on reducing the amount of pesticides you use in order to control your pests. Any pesticide that is sold has to be tested and licensed for use, and it seems to me that it would be perfectly possible to set minimum standards. All of us know that it is dangerous to use too little pesticide. Once there is no immunity against a pest, it is much more difficult to control matters later. I do not see that it militates against experiment in quantity.

Lord Walston

This has been a worthwhile short exchange of views and I am most grateful to the Minister for what he has said and for his undertaking to give thought to these problems. In those circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Mottistone moved Amendment No. 63:

Page 13, line 37, leave out ("crops, food or feeding stuff") and insert ("agricultural products").

The noble Lord said: As your Lordships are no doubt aware, I am advised by the Food and Drink Federation on this amendment. When that body was forewarned of this Bill in June of this year, the Ministry said in relation to this particular subsection that its purpose was, to lay down by regulation maximum residue limits for pesticides in agricultural products". The purpose of my amendment is to reinstate that wording. In fact, we have to become rather more specific with the wording that is in the Bill at the moment, and which I seek to remove. It is interesting that my noble friend the Minister, in replying to the previous amendment, said that there are always difficulties when one is too specific in a Bill. I suspect that in this case he is being too specific.

The term "agricultural products" is fairly broad but indicates that one is reasonably close to the farm gate—whereas food as described in Clause 22, which refers to Section 131 of the Food Act 1984, includes, drink, chewing gum and other products of a like nature and use, and articles and substances used as ingredients in the preparation of food or drink or of such products"— and it goes on to describe what is not included. This is essentially directing one's thoughts towards processed foods as opposed to the raw materials of foods as produced on the farm.

I suggest to your Lordships that controls on agricultural products would be more appropriate and effective than controls on processed food—not least because of the difficulty of tracing produce back to the individual grower if an item of processed food were found to contain residues above a statutory maximum residue limit.

I believe we are becoming over-complicated and I would be most grateful if my noble friend will give me the benefit of his consideration of the points I have raised. At this stage, my amendment is by way of being a probing amendment but it may be necessary for me to follow it through at a later stage, if my noble friend cannot satisfy me now.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

Before my noble friend the Minister answers, is it conceivable that this question might be looked at from another viewpoint? For example, does not the residue in flax matter? It is not going to be eaten, although it is an agricultural product.

Lord Belstead

I can understand why my noble friend Lord Mottistone has suggested this amendment. On the face of it it would simplify the wording of this Bill, but I foresee a difficulty. It would restrict the powers to set maximum residue limits in processed foods; but also, in, for instance, fish or game if that was felt to be necessary.

It is true that the timing and extent of the use of this provision has yet to be decided. It is clear that the term "agricultural products" would be too restrictive. Some agricultural products are only traded in processed form. For example, there is virtually no international trade in milk; at least, the Government feel very strongly that there should not be fresh milk coming into this country—let us put it that way. The fact of the matter is that there is not a great deal of trade in fresh milk across borders. But one finds that with overseas suppliers of butter and cheese there is such a trade. It is for serious consideration as to whether there should be standards for residue limits for products of that kind.

4.45 p.m.

Oils and fats are another example. Indeed, they are likely to be included as, I am advised, are milk and cheese, in Community directives on pesticide residues. Furthermore, there are certain interests which, as your Lordships know very well, regard maximum residue limits on food products at retail level as a useful public health safeguard. I am not entirely sure of the usefulness of such a measure when we already have wide-ranging surveillance of residues which pays particular attention to foods at retail level; but we have to recognise that people feel that way about residue limits in food and not just rule out the possibility altogether.

I hope that my noble friend will consider what I have said about this matter. There is no wish on the part of the Government to be draconian. Without trying to make out that we are attempting to incorporate every single point in this Bill, I will say to my noble friend Lady Carnegy that the Bill would allow flax to be covered as a crop. But the point that worries me about this amendment is that, if it were to be made, it would mean that there would be a gaping hole at retail level where, quite suddenly, society would have said that they would not wish to put the question of residue limits into the Bill at all. I believe that would be a very questionable thing to do. It is on those grounds that I would ask my noble friend to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Mottistone

I shall read with great interest what my noble friend has said. Perhaps I may press him further on one point, concerning the difficulty which could be created by the wording as it stands in the Bill, in relation to food. As your Lordships are well aware, I am particularly interested in biscuits. A biscuit involves second-stage processing; that is to say, the wheat is first processed into flour and then the flour is processed into a biscuit. How will the biscuit manufacturer be readily able to trace the source of the original wheat or the source of the pesticide that was used in the orginal production of the wheat? Would it not be much better if my noble friend could find a formula—and this is what I invite him to do—which is not quite so general as "all stages of food"?

The food chain is a very long one, from the farm gate right through to the customer. Quite frequently there are two levels of processing, sometimes three, before one gets that far—which takes one a very long way from the original pesticide. At the same time that I give consideration to what my noble friend has said, perhaps he will undertake to consider what I have said to see whether he cannot produce a better definition—perhaps not even relying on Section 131 of the Food Act 1984 as his basis for definition of food. Perhaps he can find some other way of narrowing the definition to make this matter easier to implement.

One is not fighiting the principle behind this subsection but against the difficulties which may in practice arise in trying to enforce the resultant regulations which may come out of the Bill as it is currently worded in subsection (1)(g).

Lord Belstead

Perhaps my noble friend will allow me to look at what he said. I give no commitment, for the reasons which I have sought to explain. Perhaps my noble friend and I could have a further consultation before the next stage of the Bill.

Lord Mottistone

I am deeply grateful to my noble friend and I am happy to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Earl of Swinton

This might be a convenient time to take the second Statement. I beg to move that the House do now resume.

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

House resumed.