HL Deb 11 December 1984 vol 458 cc161-98

House again in Committee on Clause 15.

Lord Northbourne moved Amendment No. 64:

Page 13, line 37, after ("stuff') insert ("or soil")

The noble Lord said: I bring the Committee back to more earthly matters. I can find no reference in this Bill to the soil. This seems to me to be a very grave omission. The soil is really the foundation of agriculture. It would indeed be possible to say that it is the foundation of man's life on earth. We in this country have very fertile soils, perhaps some of the most fertile in the world. Their stability, their workability, their water-holding capacity and their ability to release nutrients to plants gradually depend mainly upon their organic content. An organic soil provides a well buffered medium for plant growth. The breakdown of organic matter in the soil is carried out by myriads and myriads of micro-organisms, micro-flora and micro-fauna—and some fauna that are not so micro, like earthworms.

Many modern agrochemicals are capable of destroying organic life in the soil, of upsetting its balance, or of destroying some aspects of it. One of the worst features of the situation is that we know very little indeed about what many of these agrochemicals are actually doing. I should like to give the Committee some examples. In the case of residual herbicides, there is ample evidence to show that traces of them remain in the soil from one year to the next and often build up.

My attention has been drawn to a paper produced by the British Agrochemicals Association in which they wish to resist this amendment on the grounds that the extent and rate of the degradation of chemicals in the soil varies in different types of soil and the residues vary in their bio-availability because some are tightly bound up in the soil particles. If I may say so, this only adds to the argument that there should be more research into, and more information on, the behaviour of chemical residues in the soil and that, where necessary, the residue levels should be controlled.

If I may give the Committee an example, in our own farming enterprise we found a few years ago, to our distress, that certain fields no longer seemed to have any earthworms active in them. Having looked very carefully at the possible causes, we came to the conclusion—which has not been entirely verified but we believe it to be true—that a particular fungicide called Benlate was responsible. We have subsequently found a good deal of evidence that Benlate does destroy earthworms in orchards in the Kentish countryside. I have here the Ministry's orange book on chemicals, under "Fungicide" there is absolutely no reference to danger to earthworms.

5.15 p.m.

I believe another very serious risk which we are facing is the fact that soil fumigants are beginning to be advertised by chemical manufacturers for use in the field of cultivation of' vegetables. Soil fumigants are precisely designed—if I may quote from an article in Grower: methyl bromide is technically the most attractive of the true soil sterilants. It is a general biocide that will kill most nematodes, weed seeds and fungi"— in the soil. The article goes on to say: It works very quickly and dissipates from the soil within a few days. There are residues, but these are acceptable within present standards". What does that mean? I believe there is important experimental work going on at Boxworth, near Cambridge. I should like to ask the Minister if he will give me an assurance that the results of that work will be taken into account in framing the regulations under this Bill.

Finally, I should like to say that I think most farmers (as I was) have been brought up, as I was brought up by my father, to believe that the health of the soil is the most important trust which any of us who live by the land can have. I believe that responsible farmers need support and much more information about the side effects of the chemicals which they are being pressed every day to use, so that they can avoid unintentionally doing damage.

I admit that I have probably drafted this amendment badly; but I believe it is also necessary that the soil should be included in some form within the regulations which the Minister frames, so that those few farmers who are prepared to sacrifice good husbandry to short-term expediency can be brought into the net and prevented from doing so. I believe that the soil is still this country's most important natural resource, and we must not destroy it. I beg to move.

Lord John-Mackie

I think that no one could disagree with what the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, has said about the soil in this country. Whether or not his amendment is correct, I do not know; but I think we should give considerable thought to what we are doing to the soil by using the various sprays that we are using.

A few months ago, in a debate on the environment, I mentioned that, along with my fellow farmers, we went on spraying and spraying and adding various things to the soil without really knowing what we were doing. I appealed then for research in this way. I hope that the Minister will support the plea of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for research as quickly as possible so that we know what we are doing.

Lord Melchett

I also want to support this amendment, which has my name on it. I should like to make two very quick further points. I think the case has been very ably deployed for ensuring that the Bill provides some powers to allow the Government, if they wish to—and I hope noble Lords will remember that this is simply discretionary and not mandatory—to ensure that the soil of this country is not subjected to dangerous levels of pesticide residue. For example, I understand that in West Germany paraquat has been banned on the grounds that undesirable levels of residues of that chemical were building up in soils subject to minimal cultivations.

There is the greatest interest in this from the farmer's point of view. For example, I understand that it is quite likely that fungicide residues may slow the breakdown of straw. Straw incorporation and other means of getting rid of straw and stubble which is not burnt is very much in the news and in farmers' minds at the moment. It seems to me to be extremely undesirable from the farming industry's point of view that fungicide residues should so build up as to make straw incorporation that much more difficult. So there are good farming arguments for ensuring that residues of pesticides in soils are kept to an absolute minimum.

As I understand it, there are already examples in other European countries, other Common Market countries, of chemicals actually being banned because of the danger of residues building up in the soil. I therefore hope the Government will support this amendment.

Lord Tordoff

I wonder whether I could briefly intervene at this stage to support this amendment. Speaking as one who was on the sub-committee of the Science and Technology Select Committee, I think one of the outstanding moments of our investigations there was when we went to Rothamstead and were lectured by somebody from Soil Survey. I think it became apparent to us all that the soil is an area which does not have enough research into it carried out in this country, and, as the noble Lord has said, is fundamental to all our agricultural activities. Certainly, it had a dramatic effect on my ideas about how we should be looking at residues, not just in terms of crops but in terms of the soil itself. This is an important amendment. I hope that the Government will accept it.

Earl Peel

I am sure that the Minister will have a good reason why it is not practicable to put this aspect in the Bill. I would, however, agree with the noble Lord opposite. If we are going to look long term—I sincerely hope that we are—towards seriously reducing the amount of pesticides used in the countryside, then surely the quality of the soil will be all-important. We must therefore look after it now.

The Earl of Onslow

We should be warned, when talking about this amendment—which, incidentally, I support—about the discussion that is already taking place about the amount of nitrates leaking through chalk to the aquifer below, which is building up to levels that are causing concern. To leave out soil would be unwise. I know that my noble friend is a wise man. I am sure that he will include it in the Bill.

The Earl of Radnor

I have a great deal of sympathy with the amendment but perhaps not the knowledge to go with that sympathy. I feel however that nitrates are in a different category altogether to pesticides and more to do with fertilisers. I agree that levels are up to an enormous height. I have heard reports of almost dangerous levels of nitrates being brought up from 240 feet below in some chalk aquifers. However, that has perhaps nothing to do with pesticides.

The Earl of Swinton

I can say in all honesty that I share every concern that has been expressed by noble Lords who have spoken in this little debate. I personally take great pride in saying in front of your Lordships that I share a widely held principle that land—and when we think of land we include the soil, obviously—is something that should be handed on in a better condition than that in which it was received. I share very much the sentiments of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. Having said that, I can certainly assure the noble Lord that our intention is so to control pesticides as to avoid unacceptable effects on soil flora and fauna and the environment generally.. These are the factors which are always considered when a pesticide is proposed for application to field crops or the soil.

My noble friend Lord Peel was good enough to say that I would have a very good answer. I like to think that I have. I hope that he will agree with me when I produce it, because I do not believe that this aim would be achieved by setting maximum residue limits for soil. For many pesticides it would indeed be impossible to arrive at a satisfactory figure.

The situation in relation to food is quite different. The aim is to ensure that when the crop or food reaches the consumer it does not contain unsatisfactory levels of residues. This is I think very much a practical problem. At what point would we set a limit for residues in soils? Shortly after application, the residue level could be high. In some cases—for example, residue herbicides, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne—the pesticide is designed to persist in the soil for a specified period, after which the residue levels decline at varying rates, depending on the pesticide itself, the soil type and weather conditions, until they disappear.

Surely, the aim is to ensure that no pesticide is used in such a way as to have persistent and damaging effects on the soil or any other aspect of the environment. I am sure that this is best done, first, by screening all pesticides so that their risks to soil flora and fauna, if any, can be assessed; secondly, to arrive at conditions for their use—if the use is likely to be acceptable at all—which protect the soil from deleterious effects; and thirdly, to make sure that those conditions are adhered to by the users.

Certainly, I can give the undertaking that we shall be taking into account most seriously the research work carried out at Boxworth when we come to forming our regulations. I might add that it is not just research at Boxworth. MAFF has research going on at a number of places into the soil and its problems. The powers to do all this are here in the Bill. I hope therefore that the noble Lord will agree, with my noble friend Lord Peel, that I have put up a very good case why this amendment is not necessary.

Lord Swinfen

I am sorry to enter upon the debate at this late stage but the Minister in his reply has supported the possibility of damage being done to the soil and of pesticides remaining in the soil for a long time. His reply however gives us the seeds of a method of controlling it. My noble friend said that some pesticides are designed to stay in the soil for a certain length of time. Would it not be possible to bring in regulations that refer to the type of pesticide and the amount that is still residual in the soil a particular period after application? This may be difficult but it would I think produce a practical answer in the long run. Perhaps my noble friend might like to consider it.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

It seems to me that no farmer, if he knows that there is any question of soil being permanently damaged by the use of a specific pesticide, will use it. Nor will he use it if he knows that if he persistently uses a certain pesticide it will build up in the soil. What is needed is the education of farmers, perhaps some advertising and maybe a specification on the container. These are all things that the Minister might think about. It is a very important issue. I do not believe however that farmers need very strong persuasion once they know the implications. They know that the soil is the most valuable thing that they have. It is their capital.

The Earl of Swinton

I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Carnegy for answering the question of my noble friend Lord Swinfen. The answer is that if any farmer knows that a pesticide will do this to the soil, he will not use it. Not only will he not use it but under this Bill we shall make jolly sure he is not able to use it. That is what the whole Bill is about. It would be extremely difficult to follow the line proposed by my noble friend Lord Swinfen. There are so many difficulties, as I have tried to explain. There are so many factors such as the type of soil and the weather conditions that all affect what the residue levels are.

Lord Northbourne

I am delighted to hear the assurances that have been given. I would only say that I do not feel that the controls that have been applied and the systems of screening applied heretofore have been sufficiently stringent. The evidence exists I think to show that this is the case. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 65 not moved.]

Baroness Robson of Kiddington moved Amendment No. 66:

Page 14, line 6, at end insert— ("; and (hh) require all manufacturers, suppliers and persons applying a pesticide over more than 0.5 hectares of land on any one occasion to keep and make available to persons authorised under section 17(l) records of—

  1. (i) the supply of a pesticide in a quantity sufficient to treat more than 2 acres of land;
  2. 166
  3. (ii) all applications of the pesticide with details of the date and time of the application, the place, quantity and method of application, the personnel employed to apply it and the conditions under which it was applied.").

The noble Baroness said: This is an amendment of my noble friend Lord Mackie of Benshie. My noble friend is very sad not to be here but he is attempting to fly into Heathrow in the fog. We are still waiting for him to arrive. Hence, I should like to move the amendment on his behalf. It may appear an excessively bureaucratic amendment. Much has been said around the House today about the good farmer following the right principles in looking after the soil. I agree that any farmer with an interest in his soil would keep records of the pesticides that he puts on his land. Much has also been said about the residue left in the soil that can affect crops in future years. It is exactly for that reason that we believe it is correct for records of applications to be kept. It would be helpful in helping research in evaluating the residual values left in the soil. One would be able to go back to properly kept records of application.

It would help in other ways. When a person has been accidentally contaminated by a pesticide, there would be no problem for the doctor in finding out what particular pesticide had been the culprit. This is frequently the case now. I believe that it would not be a hardship to keep these records. It would be helpful both to the research and to farming practice. I beg to move.

5.30 p.m.

Lord Stodart of Leaston

I have absolutely nothing against the keeping of records; I think they are invaluable and necessary. However, as I have already said in the course of this debate, I think that too much is being asked in this particular detail. I do not know the set up of the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie. I suspect that he has an army of private secretaries. I do not have one, and even if I did I see the instructions that are given by the firm which supplies me with the pesticides. They write out on a sheet of paper what mixture should be put on each field; how many points per acre; and, because the tank does five acres to the fill, I therefore do some calculations and hand them to my foreman and say, "This is what you must put in".

Where I draw the line with this particular amendment is that I think that it is asking too much. Of course, there must be a record of the particular pesticide—or the blends of pesticides which is the usual case today—where either two or three of them have often to be put in. It is perfectly reasonable to ask for the date. It is going a little unnecessarily far to say at what time, particularly if you are doing two or three fields in the day, so that you have to say, nine o'clock in such a field, and half past eleven in the next. One must always remember—certainly on my farm, where I have two men—that one chap has to do the work and then has to remember to go home and fill in these details about the time.

The only other point I object to is making a note of the conditions under which it was applied. What exactly does this mean? Warm and sunny? Gentle breeze blowing? Slightly humid atmosphere? With great respect, this is tipping the balance a little over what I have begged should be considered; getting the balance right between the requirements (which I fully recognise) of what I describe as the environment, and of the practical side of farming.

It puzzles me why the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, starts off by talking about "0.5 hectares" and then three lines later switches to "2 acres". That I would not know, but if I may say so with the greatest respect, the Mackie brothers have always been in a class entirely on their own.

Lord John-Mackie

I was going to say that I almost completely agree with what the noble Lord. Lord Stodart, has said—and he said it better than I can probably say it—except that I do not understand the point requiring manufacturers to do anything about it. The supplier surely is the important person. As the noble Lord said, the detail required is far too much to expect an ordinary farmer to cope with. We keep reasonable records which should satisfy without going into these details—which I think the noble Lord shattered fairly well!

Lord Tordoff

I do not wish to come between the Mackie clan in any way at all; but in the absence of the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, perhaps I could just assist slightly. I wish his plane would arrive because there is another amendment coming up which I may have to move if he is not able to do so.

There is one point I should like to interject at this stage which bears on the question of manufacturers and suppliers—but, certainly as Lord John-Mackie said, probably more on suppliers than manufacturers—and the need for records to be kept at that level. I am informed by my honourable friend the Member for what used to be called Ely (but I think is now called something else) that there is considerable concern in his part of East Anglia that as a result of the tragic accident in India there is a tendency of people to start stocking up with pesticides of the category that were being manufactured at that plant. Certainly if that is the case then of course it is something that the Government really ought to keep a careful eye on in order to make sure that an unusual level of stocking of those sorts of products is not being put into unsuitable buildings. I wonder whether the Government are aware of this fear at the moment and whether any steps can be taken to overcome the problem. I do not expect an answer now. I take this opportunity of raising it in this Committee.

Viscount Monckton of Brenchley

The speeches I have heard so far seem to apply only to very rich farmers. The account book would not allow the idea of small farmers like me buying in and storing extra fertilisers because they might get banned. The noble Lord who sits on this side of the Committee said that we should not spray on Sundays, or at 12 o'clock. Again, a small farm you spray when you can: when the land is dry, not when it is wet in the morning or wet again in the evening dew. I think we should be practical on this matter and look at the ordinary, small farmer's point of view.

Lord Belstead

The noble Viscount, Lord Monckton, the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, and my noble friend Lord Stodart feel that this is going into detail which would not be reasonable. At the same time, I hope that the statement of intention which I circulated last week shows that the Government are sensitive to the demands about the need for records. I can assure the Committee that the requirements for records—if they are to be made—would be kept to the minimum necessary for us to ensure the safe and efficient use of pesticides and would be the sort of records which many farmers now keep as part of normal, good agricultural practice. I say that particularly to my noble friend Lord Stodart who set out in very simple terms exactly how he felt about that from the point of view of normal, good agricultural practice.

I repeat what I have said many times before, that we will consult all interested parties fully before endeavouring to impose any requirements about records as about anything else in the regulations. We have been having informal consultations with the National Farmers Union. My advice is that those informal consultations would lead us to believe that it is possible to design a system of records which would be acceptable to farmers. Meanwhile, we have made it clear that the regulations would require what, in our statement of intention, we call certain records to be kept by users including farmers. It is difficult to go much further than that before the consultations with those who represent the users if those consultations are to have real meaning as we are determined that they shall. It is for that reason that I ask the noble Baroness if she will consider withdrawing the amendment.

Baroness Robson of Kiddington

I shall certainly consider withdrawing the amendment; but before doing so, may I say to the noble Lord. Lord Stodart—who questioned why we had put conditions in—that there is an enormous difference between a still, sunny day and a howling gale. A farmer could be applying his pesticide when the wind was too strong and the pesticide was therefore spreading. I do not think it is unreasonable to refer to conditions. But with the assurance of the noble Lord, I shall withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Nicol moved Amendment No. 67:

Page 14, line 6, at end insert— ("and ( ) specify the degree of volatility of any pesticide formulation,").

The noble Baroness said: I am indebted to the Royal Society for Nature Conservation for information about this particular problem. Certain pesticides, mainly herbicides, are so volatile that after they have been sprayed onto a target crop they may vaporise from the leaves or from the soil's surface and drift in the form of an invisible vapour. This vaporisation may occur up to several days after application, and it should be distinguished from spray drift, where a pesticide is blown away from the application area before reaching the target crop. A pesticide's liability to produce vapour drift is a result of its chemical formulation, not its method of application. Pesticides based on an ester formulation—that is, an organic formulation—are more volatile than those based on inorganic salt formulations. I am sure that other members of the Committee have been given this information by the Royal Society for Nature Conservation, but I think it is important that I produce the information they have given, for the benefit of those who have not had it.

In 1981, MAFF produced a leaflet warning farmers about the problems associated with ester formulation hormone weed killers. This leaflet recognised that horticultural crops are particularly susceptible to vapour drift. Many horticulturists are extremely concerned about this problem, and the Evesham branch of the National Farmers Union has called for a ban on ester hormone herbicides. The MAFF leaflet listed susceptible crops, which included nearly all of the broad-leaved crops grown in the United Kingdom. Many of these crops are related to wild plants of the countryside, but MAFF has not acknowledged that the native British flora should be regarded as susceptible to vapour drift. No compensation is available to owners of nature reserves affected by vapour drift, as it is to horticulturists so affected.

The Ministry of Agriculture itself has demonstrated, in a trial at Boxworth, that brussels sprouts plants were badly damaged due to vapour drift, and there are other instances which can be mentioned to support the argument. The problems of vapour drift could be reduced by encouraging the production of pesticides with salt-based rather than ester-based formulations. This could be brought about by including a test of volatility in the proposed statutory approval scheme and withholding approval when a new formulation was perceived to be of too great a volatility.

I appreciate the Minister's concern that we should not become too detailed in this Bill, but this is not a point of detail. This is a new dimension, a new hazard, which needs to be recognised; and as far as I am aware it has not yet been mentioned in any of the documents produced by the Minister—not even in his excellent declaration of intention in regard to the regulations. Therefore, I would ask the Minister to tell us his view on this new hazard, and whether the Government intend to take it into account in the regulations. I beg to move.

Lord Stanley of Alderley

I am glad the noble Baroness has raised this problem. First of all, I would say to her that it emphasises the responsibility of farmers in this case. We were very well aware, about four or five years ago, that the ester formulation, particularly of CMPP, would go on the crop and then, in two or three days, take off and destroy a neighbouring crop. I am delighted to say that I am informed that no case has occurred in 1984, and the amount of spray used in the ester formulation, as opposed to the salt, has dropped to absolutely minimal proportions. I hope this perhaps brings out how farmers, too, can take a responsible and indeed an experimenting view.

However, if I can now pour some cold water on the amendment, I would say that I think it is going to be very difficult for the Minister to quantify volatility. First of all, the noble Baroness is perfectly right: in high temperatures you get this take-off after two or three days, which you cannot decide. Certainly ester formulations take off more than the salt. But it also depends I think on the type of weed you are spraying. If it is a flat-top weed that reflects the sun, you are more likely to get more take-off. All I am saying is that I think it would be very difficult in fact to put on the label how much volatility that chemical has. But I am entirely behind the noble Baroness in her reservations about ester formulations, particularly of CMPP.

Lord Renton

I appreciate the motive of the noble Baroness in moving this amendment, but I am puzzled about the way in which she has put it forward. When she says that the regulations shall, specify the degree of volatility", I presume that she means they shall specify the maximum amount of volatility that would be permitted. But the amendment does not say that. If she could make it clear that that is what she intends, I think we should all have a better understanding of what she is getting at.

5.45 p.m.

Lord Melchett

I very strongly support this amendment. I think it is one which meets the very considerable concern of many farmers, in particular fruit growers, who have suffered considerable damage because of pesticides volatising from neighbouring crops, often some considerable distance away, and appearing sometimes some days after they were applied originally. My noble friend drew attention, in particular, to the problems which volatile chemicals of this sort cause to the natural interests in the countryside. After all, the nature reserve does not need to be annexed to or even very close to a field which has been sprayed with a particularly volatile pesticide to be affected very adversely by it—to say nothing of the generality of plants in hedgerows and alongside green lanes, most of which will be particularly susceptible to the types of pesticide which are produced in the most volatile formulations.

I hope that the noble Lord, when he replies to this debate, will deal with this problem. Whereas the damage caused to farmers and growers by chemicals which have come from a neighbouring crop, because of their volatility, is now subject to compensation, there is no similar compensation here. Indeed, in the MAFF guidance notes which I have seen there is not even any recognition of the problems which, broadly, weed species, wild plant species, suffer as a result of this.

To answer the point the noble Lord, Lord Stanley, made, I would say that it would surely be quite possible—and this amendment would do nothing to prevent this—for a standard test of volatility to be produced. It would not tell you exactly how volatile a chemical is going to be in any given circumstances, but, like any other standard test, it would give you a guide. After all, if the noble Lord's point were followed, I think it would be pretty well impossible to test anything for anything. You have to have a standard test—that is, standardise the testing procedure—and then subject all pesticides to that standard test. That would give you an index of volatility which would allow you at least to make a comparison between one pesticide and another. That is a particularly important point, it seems to me, because my understanding is that pretty well all, if not all, of the pesticides available in the ester, in the volatile form, are also available in a salt solution, in a non-volatile form. If that informa tion were available to farmers, rather fewer of the volatile chemicals even than are used now would be used in future.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

I do not know whether I am being very much of a dim-wit, but, quite apart from the issue of volatility, I do not understand the context of this amendment. It comes (does it not?) under Clause 15(1)(h), which says: direct that, if there is more pesticide or pesticide residue … than the proportion specified". The amendment seeks to, specify the … volatility". Is not the amendment in quite the wrong place, and should it be adopted—or am I misunderstanding?

Baroness Nicol

If the noble Baroness will look, I think she will see the amendment goes back to the very beginning of Clause 15, and it would in fact become paragraph (i). The subsection would then read: The Ministers may jointly by regulations—… (i) specify". While I am on my feet, let me reply to the noble Lord, Lord Renton. Yes, the amendment is designed to specify the maximum volatility and I see it as making no particular problem for the farmer because if the chemical did not meet the Ministry's standards it would not be approved and it would not reach him.

The Earl of Onslow

My attention has been drawn to a paper given to the All-Party Conservation Committee and signed by my noble friend Lord Craigton, Sir Peter Hardy and Sir John Farr. It would probably have been better if my noble friend had produced this information but as I am on my feet I shall do so. It says that in 1981 MAFF produced a leaflet entitled Focus on Spraying with Hormone Weedkillers. It then says: However in this leaflet MAFF failed to acknowledge the implications of spray and vapour drift for wildlife. The leaflet 'invented' the idea of the 'susceptible crop' and gave the impression that in areas where these were grown special precautions must be taken, but outside of these areas there was no particular problem. The list of crops listed as susceptible includes all broadleaved crops grown in U.K.—if these were susceptible then it was clear that the majority of the UK's native flora were also susceptible. Details of a well controlled study conducted by ADAS were published in 1982. This showed that brassica plants could be damaged by vapour evolved from leaf surfaces sprayed with the herbicide mecroprop 30 hours after spraying. Damage was recorded 100m. from where the herbicide had been sprayed. The volatilisation and vapour drift of these herbicides is not new. The earliest report, in 1946, had involved the herbicide 2,4-D. Damage over I mile away from this pesticide was reported to the Third British Weed Conference as early as 1956. The results of a 5 year study of vapour drift damage by 2,4-D was published in 1970. It seems clear that MAFF and the agrochemical companies chose to ignore the problem of pesticide volatility and subsequent vapour drift damage". There is a little more on the subject. However, it appears that it has been a problem which has not been given the attention that it deserves. It is a problem which should be taken very seriously when the regulations as regards this Bill are drawn up.

The Earl of Swinton

I am very grateful to the noble Baroness for raising this issue. Obviously it is an issue that has had a very good airing today, and it is one in which many of your Lordships are interested. It provides me with yet another opportunity to emphasise the wide spectrum of conditions of use which may be set by Ministers under Clause 15(1). The object is to protect the environment from pesticides whose volatile nature poses a risk and the Government of course go along with that. There is no reason why the environment should not include, among other things, nature reserves.

We could do this in two ways under the powers already provided under the Bill. We could refuse or revoke an approval for a pesticide product which we considered too volatile to be used safely in any way. If its volatility were such that it could be used safely in some ways, but not others, then we could set conditions on its use restricting it to the safe methods of application and we could penalise those who infringed such conditions. I should also stress that we propose to approve products individually, not just active ingredients, since, as the noble Baroness has recognised, formulations can affect safety as much as individual chemicals (whether by affecting the volatility of the product or its ability to permeate skin—to give two examples). I hope in view of what I have said the noble Baroness will not think that this amendment is necessary.

Lord Melchett

The noble Earl said that in looking at the safety of a particular product its effect on the environment would be taken into account. He then added, in parenthesis, that that would include nature reserves. But as I understand it, it would be a major change of policy from the existing scheme if, when the particular products were assessed, their effects on native flora were considered as significant as their effects on other broad-leaved crops when it comes to volatility. If that is what the noble Earl is saying, then it would be very welcome and would take us a considerable step forward.

However, as the noble Earl heard from both sides of the Committee in the debate which preceded his reply, the fact of the matter is that up till now his department does not seem to have acknowledged at all that the problem of volatility can affect broad-leaved species other than crop species, and those will be, as has been said and as was reported to the All-Party Conservation Committee, the great majority of the native British flora. If the effects of volatility on those plants are to be considered in deciding whether chemicals should be cleared under the new regulations, it would be a significant step forward and it would be useful to have that confirmed.

Baroness Nicol

Before I withdraw the amendment, I wonder whether the Minister would also clarify a point for me? Is he saying that in future volatility will be a consideration? If so, are the manufacturers aware of this? From the information which I have it does not appear to have been a consideration in past tests. It is very important that the situation should be made clear.

The Earl of Swinton

I can really only repeat what I have already said. I should stress that we propose to approve products individually and that formulations can affect safety as much as individual chemicals. I do not know whether or not the manufacturers are aware of this.

Baroness Nicol

If I were a manufacturer I would not be too happy about that particular reply. We are getting back again to the yes or no situation. Is volatility to be taken into account or not? Is it a hazard which is to be measured or not?

The Earl of Swinton

Yes; and volatility has in the past been taken into account.

Lord Melchett

May I press the noble Earl for a response to my specific question on the matter of whether in future the effects of volatile chemicals on non-agricultural species—on the native flora—will be considered a significant factor or not?

The Earl of Onslow

While the Minister is thinking of the answer to that question, his answer on volatility has not, with respect, been quite as hopeful as some of us on this side of the Committee had anticipated. It seems to me that it is dangerous not to get a proper level regarding volatility. If that is the case, it seems to me perfectly simple for the Minister to say, "Yes, this will be considered in greater detail than it has been shown to be considered over the past year or two".

The Earl of Swinton

I sometimes wish that my officials could write a little better than I write myself! Let me say to the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, that in a way he has hit on the whole advantage of this Bill. It does give us power statutorily to consider the environment generally in dealing with chemicals. We cannot give a clear indication of the practical effects, but volatility is a fact to be taken into consideration.

Lord Melchett

I was going to intervene to say that the noble Earl might like to consider taking away the points that I have made. I do not necessarily expect the Government to give a reply to all these detailed points, particularly as we are dealing with some very general clauses. There is likely I suppose to be some weeks between now and the Report stage, and I would be very happy to receive a typed letter in reply to all these points and which we could both read at our leisure over the Christmas break. I am not trying to put the noble Earl on the spot now. But if he would like to take the matter away and write to me I should be very grateful. I think that both of us might find it more helpful.

The Earl of Swinton

I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Melchett. I must say that if I wrote to him, never in a million years would he be able to read it: I shall make sure that it is typed. Of course, I shall write to him, but I am not prepared to take this particular amendment back and look at it again because I do not think that it is necessary.

Baroness Nicol

In order that the correspondence may take place, and that I may read with some care, in Hansard what has been said, I propose at this stage to beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Mackie of Benshie moved Amendment No. 68:

Page 14, line 8, at end insert ("or section (Aerial spraying of pesticides)").

The noble Lord said: I must apologise to the Committee for not being here before but I had a board meeting which was arranged some time before the meeting of the Committee and it was considered quite important that I attend that meeting. I have no doubt that I have been deputised rather better than if I were present myself.

The Earl of Onslow

Is the noble Lord aware that that is a different excuse from the one given for his absence by his noble friend Lord Tordoff?

Lord Mackie of Benshie

I must apologise for not briefing him properly, but both of us were probably telling the truth. Amendment No. 68 leads straight to Amendment No. 100, which obviously it would be convenient for the Committee to discuss.

Amendment No. 100: After Clause 15, insert the following new clause:—

("Aerial spraying of pesticides.

.—(1) The Ministers may by order prohibit, or license unconditionally or subject to such conditions as they think fit, the aerial spraying of pesticides over a place or class of places to be specified in the order.

(2) The Ministers may jointly by regulations—

  1. (a) provide for the licensing of operations over places that are the subject or an order under subsection (1) above;
  2. (b) prohibit aerial spraying of pesticides within 100 metres of any building of a class to be specified in the regulations and over any land adjoining or crossed by a road, public footpath or bridleway or over any common land;
  3. (c) require the person on whose behalf aerial spraying of pesticides is to be carried out to give at least 24 hours' notice in writing that such an operation will take place to—
    1. (i) the local authority within whose area the operation is to take place;
    2. (ii) the office of the Chief Constable of the area in which it is intended to operate; and
    3. (iii) the owners or occupiers or uses of land adjacent to the area that is to be sprayed;
  4. (d) provide for the information to be included in a notice in paragraph (c) above;
  5. (e) require the person on whose behalf the aerial spraying is to be carried out together with the operator who will apply the pesticide to consult with persons in the vicinity of the area over which the operation is to take place and who may be affected by it as to the risks involved;
  6. (f) direct that the person on whose behalf the aerial spraying is to be carried out shall mark the boundaries of the area to be sprayed in a specified manner.

(3) Regulations under this section may only be made by the Ministers after consultation with the Secretary of State for Transport.").

6 p.m.

The amendment paves the way for the new clause, which is Amendment No. 100. It is extremely important because I do not think that anything has caused more annoyance to the public than aerial spraying. From all over the country there come complaints—and sometimes exaggerated reports—of the damage done as a result of aerial spraying. However, from my experience of aerial spraying I know that it is enormously difficult for an operator to confine himself precisely to the boundaries of the crop.

It was evident from the Second Reading debate that most of the farming interests present thought that because of the expense and everything else aerial spraying could be dispensed with in the light of some of the new techniques, including wide booms, tramlining, and so on. I doubt whether it can be dispensed with in all cases. Exceptions were mentioned on Second Reading. In answer to a previous question, the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, gave us a very helpful resumé of the Government's attitude; he mentioned that many of the Civil Aviation Authority's regulations were in the process of being stiffened up, and in general showed an awareness of the size of this problem, which of course is shared by all who have an interest in it.

The new clause speaks for itself. We want to know the Government's attitude to particular problems. Again on Second Reading my noble kinsman mentioned the difficulties of farms across which there were many bridle paths and in many cases the necessity to spray forestry, hill-land and bracken. All these matters need to be looked at, as do the new techniques which may depend on some form of aerial spraying. Therefore, it is very necessary for the Government to take power to license aerial spraying, which is what this amendment seeks to do. We say that aerial spraying should be allowed only in specific circumstances. I think that that is true. One can of course envisage immensely wet times when the only way to stop a disease which might ruin a crop might be by aerial spraying. But we need to reach the point where aerial spraying is licensed only in exceptional circumstances. We cannot ban it altogether, but the right way to proceed is to introduce regulations to license it only where it is absolutely necessary.

I shall not go into all the complaints from the public, but they are very real, and if any aerial spraying is to be carried out at all, we need regulations of the sort contained in our new clause. I shall not go into each of the subsections of the new clause, but I should like to hear what the Minister has to say on regulations of the sort which we suggest in this amendment. I stress again the importance of such regulations in relationships between the farming community and the public. I beg to move.

Lord John-Mackie

In spite of his board meeting, I am glad that my noble kinsman has arrived here at last and we are grateful to him for tabling this amendment. As he rightly said, aerial spraying has given rise to the fear of spray drift by the public. I should like to divide aerial spraying into spraying by fixed-wing aircraft and spraying by helicopter. I have done both in Scotland and in Essex, and I am perfectly certain that in arable areas we could ban fixed-wing spraying without there being much loss to any situation. A plane can spray only at a speed of about 80 miles per hour. If the pilot is in the process of climbing and at the same time forgets to switch off the spray, in those one or two seconds it is very easy to make a mistake. We were speaking about drift earlier; if spraying is being carried out at about 200 feet, with wind drift the chances of making a mistake are very much greater. Apart from hill and forestry spraying, I think that we could safely ban fixed-wing spraying in arable areas, urban districts, and so on.

As regards spraying by helicopter, that is a different kettle of fish. There the pilots have much more control of the spray and can spray much lower. The spraying contractors have pointed out that just over 1 million acres of crops are sprayed from the air. That is a very small percentage of the total amount of spraying that takes place. I believe that for all the various reasons which my noble kinsman gave—and there are many other reasons as well—the amount of spraying earned out by air, whether by fixed-wing plane or by helicopter, must be absolutely necessary.

Whether aerial spraying is carried out under licence or simply as a result of having to ask permission of the Ministry, not much more or less would be done than is done at present. I do not think that the spraying contractors have anything to fear from a reduction because due to the cost factor at the moment aerial spraying is absolutely necessary. I believe that rather than introduce a licensing system—because aerial spraying needs to be carried out at short notice—it would he better to have to apply for permission. I suggest that there should be considerable conditions, such as wind speed and other factors, before permission is granted, and that the conditions for aerial spraying should he quite rigidly applied. Permission should not be given too freely. I do not want to comment on the wording of the amendment. We support it in principle, with the reservations that I have given.

Lord Burton

Noble Lords opposite have considered only farming, and I am very surprised that forestry appears to be entirely forgotten. Surely any of this spraying applies equally to farming as it does to forestry. In some of the remoter areas it would be extremely difficult to comply with some of the regulations which the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, has just suggested.

Lord John-Mackie

The noble Lord could not have been listening very carefully. I said quite distinctly that fixed-wing aircraft should be allowed for forestry and hillside bracken spraying. I said that on Second Reading and I repeated it a few minutes ago.

Lord Burton

I apologise to the noble Lord, I must have missed his remarks.

Lord Walston

In principle I support what my noble friend Lord Mackie of Benshie and what the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, have said. As farmers, I think that in almost every case we can manage without aerial spraying, although I accept that there are certain occasions when that is both desirable and sometimes even necessary. Forestry and hillside bracken spraying is an entirely different category, and there the regulations should clearly be far less stringent than those needed for proper agricultural spraying.

There are two questions which I should like to ask the Minister. First, as I understand it at the moment aerial spraying is under the control of the Civil Aviation Authority. I should like to know whether in the Minister's view the Civil Aviation Authority is at present able adequately to enforce the correct methods of spraying, and if those methods were tightened up whether this would be done in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture, or whether in his view it would be better for the Ministry of Agriculture to take over responsibility either from the Civil Aviation Authority or in conjunction with them?

The second point is that I have been handed what is described as a notification card agreed at the 11th October meeting with crop sprayers. This is notification to tell all neighbouring dwellers and neighbouring farmers that spraying is proposed to take place as soon as the weather is suitable, or something of that kind, and it specifies what type of herbicide, insecticide, fungicide, or even fertiliser is to be used.

Could the Minister tell us whether this is simply a voluntary notification so far as he knows which may or may not be used, or is it statutory, or would he consider making it an obligatory one rather than leaving it to the goodwill of the aerial spray operators? I accept that the great majority of them are amply supplied with goodwill and have no desire to cause any trouble. Those are two specific questions I have to put to the noble Lord.

I understand also that they have agreed to widening the area close to gardens, houses and so on which will not be sprayed from the air. Is the Minister satisfied that this is statutory, or purely voluntary, and does he consider that it is adequate, or would he prefer it to be a rather wider area than at present has been agreed by the spraying operators?

Lord Belstead

Could the noble Lord repeat the last question? I did not hear it.

Lord Walston

As I understand it, there is agreement with the operators of aerial spraying to increase from 75 feet to 200 feet the minimum proximity distance from residential buildings. Could the noble Lord tell us whether this is statutorily binding or a voluntary agreement, and whether he considers that the 200 feet is adequate, or whether he would rather see it extended to something like, perhaps, 100 yards?

The Earl of Onslow

I know that aerial spraying is one of the things which causes an enormous amount of concern among the public, and rightly that concern has been shown in your Lordships' Committee both last Thursday and today. One is inundated with paper over this Bill, but there is one piece of briefing which I know has been given to my noble friend which seems to me apposite on this.

We admit aerial spraying to be essential under certain forestry conditions or bracken conditions. If a certain amount of aerial spraying other than that is not allowed, it could be that we shall kill off the ability to do aerial spraying at all. I put that in, not as a point of view that I hold myself but as something for people to bear in the back of their minds.

The Earl of Radnor

I am entirely in sympathy with this amendment, but perhaps not as it is written, because this licensing is so complicated. It seems so complicated to me that it might put people off altogether. If you are going to do that, I think that with modern machinery—and taking the point about the helicopter—we could well do without aerial spraying altogether.

I have talked to a number of my neighbours at home and to the farm managers I am fortunate enough to employ. Their reply was that the fixed-wing aerial spraying was so inaccurate on the crops on which we used it that they would really prefer to find some other means. If it is that inaccurate, then it should not be allowed. I am not experienced here but I suspect that there is perhaps a more efficient way of wording the amendment. The sort of approach I should like to see taken is that fixed-wing aerial spraying would be banned except in such places where either the terrain or the flora—which would cover the forestry situation—did not allow the use of these modern tractors and booms, and so on, that we use today.

6.15 p.m.

Lord Melchett

I support the amendment. May I respond to the point which the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, made, which I think was put to him, as it has been to me, by the United Kingdom Agricultural Supply Trade Association? They suggest, as I think is agreed on all sides of the Committee, that if some aerial spraying is necessary—for example, for forestry operations where clearly no other form of spraying is a practical possibility—then, the argument runs, we must keep aerial spraying available for everything to ensure that there is a viable aerial spraying industry around to spray the trees.

I find that a nonsensical argument. I am astonished that the noble Earl gave it the light of day. For one thing, the aerial spraying—which I think on all sides it is agreed we should at least severely curb, if not ban—would largely take place in the south and east of England, and it would be the contractors in those areas who would be affected, whereas it would be contractors in the north of Scotland and the north and west who would be taking part in any spraying of forestry crops.

It may be that there is no other way of spraying trees, and it may be that the price would be slightly raised because the operator would not he spending some of their time spraying crops in other parts of the country, but if people are prepared to pay for it then somebody will come along and be prepared to do it. It does not seem to me to be a sufficient argument that because we have to go on spraying trees from the air we must allow people to go on spraying anything else they want to from the air.

I shared the experience that the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, said that he had had of trying hard as a farmer to get aerial spraying done accurately. When I first had responsibility for the farming company of which I am now a director we had been for a couple of years spraying not a weed killer but a nitrogen fertiliser, putting it on from the air on to some grazing marshes. We had complaints from the local nature reserve that some of the nitrogen was falling in their pools.

The first year I was responsible for this I went to enormous trouble with the contractor to explain exactly where the fertiliser had to go and where it did not. We looked at it on the ground. Every precaution you can imagine was taken. The day it was done people driving down the approach road to the nature reserve got nitrogen fertiliser bouncing off the roofs of their cars. That convinced me that it is impossible to do this job with anything like enough accuracy to make it acceptable except in areas where there is no alternative, like forestry and possibly bracken control, although I personally have my doubts about that. I support the amendment.

The noble Lord, Lord Belstead, gave us a detailed reply on this point, and I am sure he does not want to repeat it all again. He mentioned all the various ways in which the Government could control and put conditions on the use of this method of applying pesticides. The noble Lord needs to address himself to a sharp difference of opinion between what he said on behalf of the Government and what was said by noble Lords in many parts of the House with a fair degree of unanimity during the Second Reading debate. The view he put was that aerial spraying should continue on much the same sort of basis as it does now but they will have all sorts of powers to put regulations here and controls there, and lengthen the distance from houses and make sure that all these rules are kept. What many noble Lords have been saying is that we need to end aerial spraying for many of the uses to which it is now put.

There is a consensus that some aerial spraying should continue, that licensing or some such procedure would be desirable for those exceptional cases, but that that is all we should be left with. That is a sharp difference of opinion which the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, did not address himself to when we last discussed this in Committee. I hope he feels able to address that point today.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

Some noble Lords may have been saying that, but I do not think all noble Lords have. I think all noble Lords have agreed that the public dislikes aerial spraying. It seems to me to be of the greatest importance that anything the Government do by regulation should leave room for the development of more accurate ways of spraying arable crops by air, and more successful ways, as well as spraying that cannot be done from the ground.

I am a little surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, does not feel that speedy aerial spraying, carefully and accurately done away from houses, is not important for seed potato crops with high tops on them which could be badly damaged by being sprayed from the ground. Spraying for blight very often has to be decided on overnight for some varieties. The noble Lord obviously does not see this problem; I think I do.

It seems to me that flexibility is very important in this; consideration for the public, yes, but let us move forward scientifically. Helicopters can pick up a man from the ground. They can be very accurate indeed now. The fact that they have not always been accurate when spraying arable crops is another matter. I hope that we will not block the way forward for experimental research and the careful use of helicopters on arable crops, and that we will not confine them to being used on trees and bracken.

The Earl of Onslow

May I come back to take up one small point that the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, made. I was not advocating that this was definitely the truth. But if we are to have a system of licensing of pilots, they must work quite hard at it and not just be part-time aerial sprayers. I am not necessarily saying it is essential that what they are saying is true, but there is sufficient force in their argument for it to be taken account of. That is what I am saying.

Lord Stanley of Alderley

I am glad that my noble friend Lady Carnegy said something, because then I am not the only black sheep. I think your Lordships are being a little hard on the aerial sprayer. Your Lordships are being hard, I think, because of TV and media coverage and the thought that aeroplanes must be inaccurate because they rush about madly, spraying and looking like a sort of dragon pushing out fire. They are not. Many pilots, particularly helicopter pilots—I think I shall carry the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, here—are very accurate indeed and probably more accurate than many of your Lordships when you get on a tractor. They are certainly more accurate than I am.

I would ask your Lordships to remember the first point, that a ban on aerial spraying in the United Kingdom would unfairly prejudice us against our continental partners. I know I have said this once before, and I shall go on saying it, but it is a fact that there is enough against us already. As my noble friend Lady Carnegy said, aerial spraying is by far the most effective way to spray potatoes and also, when it is wet, to apply slug pellets.

Another point that your Lordships have missed is that aerial sprayers have brought great technological advances. For instance, they are far more developed in the technology of CDA spraying and many of them who spray abroad on cotton have experience of spraying very low rates in oil.

Finally, as my noble friend Lord Belstead has reminded us, the CAA has strict controls. However, I admit that there have been worries over spraying in particular with fixed wing aircraft. I ask my noble friend to consider one or two points. One was made by the noble Lord, Lord Walston and by my noble kinsman Lord Onslow; it relates to the question of the pilot. It is the pilot who should be licensed, not the area, as was suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie. The pilot should be licensed to spray agricultural chemicals, preferably, as the noble Lord, Lord Walston, said, by the Ministry of Agriculture.

At the moment the CAA licenses the pilot and he may have had no agricultural experience whatsoever. His last job might have been to fly Concorde; then he comes in and flies agricultural chemicals. That is crazy. He should have some agricultural training and he should be licensed. This would help to stop some of the terrible things that have happened as a result of using pilots who are probably not nationals of this country or who do not belong to this country, but have come from abroad; and even though they have a pilot's licence, they have done some fairly awful things.

The second point is that when a rule is contravened at present the company is taken to court. The pilot and the company should be taken to court and the fact should be put on the pilot's sheet, and if he has two or three convictions, he should lose his agricultural spraying licence. Lastly I agree with the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, that there is a vast difference between fixed wing and helicopter spraying.

Viscount Monckton of Brenchley

Once more your Lordships are considering and thinking of rich, large farmers and once more you are ignoring the small farmer. The small farmer uses aerial spraying as a last resort when MAFF tells him that he has a disease and this is the only way of dealing with it because of the time of the year or the state of the soil. The cheapest form is the fixed wing and it is mostly very accurate. Please do not forget that. Incidentally, many interesting things are found from the archaeological point of view, as well.

Lord Belstead

I am interested in the debate which has taken place on aerial spraying, for the second time. We are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, for flying in in time to enable us to have this debate. I think we want to be a little careful about some of the assertions which have been made. My noble friend Lord Stanley made some very helpful remarks, but I am not entirely certain that he is accurate in saying that when the CAA is awarding an aerial application certificate it does not take into account the experience of the pilot. My information is that the agricultural experience of the pilot is a factor, but I should like to look into that and maybe my noble friend will as well.

Before I reply briefly to this amendment I shall answer the three questions that the noble Lord, Lord Walston, asked me. The first is that the regulations which would be made on aerial spraying under this Bill would be subject to discussion between the Health and Safety Executive and the CAA. However, when the regulations come to be made they will be made by my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, but that will have to be in concert with another Minister, and it would be for consideration whether it would be the Minister of Transport in this case. The second—

Lord Walston

May I ask the noble Lord to clarify this? He says that the consultations would be between the Health and Safety Executive and the CAA. The noble Lord did not mention the Ministry of Agriculture. Does he take it for granted that the Ministry of Agriculture will be included in those consultations, or will it be left solely to the two bodies he mentioned?

Lord Belstead

I thought that it would be implicit that the Ministry of Agriculture is in touch, as I know, indeed, we are in touch, with the Department of Transport. So of course we are in touch with the CAA and, indeed, with the Health and Safety Executive. I think that goes without saying. The point is that when it comes to the moment when the regulations are made, I think that the noble Lord can be assured that the HSE, the CAA and the Department of Transport will have had plenty of opportunity to say what they feel. Indeed, my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport, who is responsible for transport, could well be a party to the making of the regulations, because regulations always have to be made by two members of the Government.

The noble Lord asked me about notification to neighbouring householders and inhabitants of the area. Strengthened notification requirements were announced, as I think the noble Lord is well aware, by my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Transport at the end of July. They are fully enforceable, and indeed the CAA is in the process of bringing a prosecution for failure to notify as required.

Finally, the noble Lord asked me whether or not the proximity to buildings is statutory. Again, that is under the Air Navigation Order, although the distances which I mentioned last Thursday are not quite the same as the distances which the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, has put into his amendment.

6.30 p.m.

The noble Lord, Lord Melchett, is right. I must not go over all the ground again, because I endeavoured to do so last Thursday. Basically, my reply needs to be this. This is an amendment about licensing and I think there is a difficulty when one comes to look at the amendment itself; because in some senses with an amendment of this kind one falls into the trap of being too specific. The prohibition on spraying within 100 metres of buildings is just the sort of thing that we should be able to alter or improve over time without having to have recourse to going back to primary legislation. And the flat prohibition of any spraying over footpaths, bridleways or common land might well prove in practice to be unnecessarily restrictive in, for instance, the forestry areas which have been specifically mentioned in the debate this evening.

On the other hand, what appears to be a comprehensive amendment, in practice leaves out many of the elements of control which we might wish to see given statutory force under Clause 15: the limitation to less toxic products, the types of application devices.—I was interested in what my noble friend Lord Stanley said about the aerial spraying people being very much in the forefront of development here—the training of operators in pesticide use, and so on. Indeed, if I may say so to the noble Lord, in an amendment which is appearing to be covering not only the safe use of pesticides under this Bill but also the air safety implications, there is no mention of consultation on spraying near designated areas—that comes under the Air Navigation Order—or of having to give warning to hospitals or schools or other institutions, which, again, is a feature of the Air Navigation Order.

I think there is a difficulty (and I am not suggesting that it cannot be overcome) about becoming too specific in the way that the noble Lord would wish us to be in Amendment No. 100. That leaves me with a final question which I have to answer. It is the question which the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, has put to me. It is this. Do the Government believe that we should go towards a licensing system as a matter of principle, despite the practical objections that I have just given to the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie; do the Government believe that there ought to be some form of ban; or do the Government believe that the basis we have at the moment is the right one? I have to say quite openly to the Committee that I believe that the basis that we have at the moment is a basis which is right; because the CAA are bound to be interested in, and expert on, the air navigation side of this particular practice and the Ministry of Agriculture, in proper consultation with those who are concerned, has a duty, a moral duty and a work duty, to be concerned with making regulations which will properly complement the Air Navigation Order restrictions.

It is open to both the CAA and the Ministry of Agriculture to see that the restrictions, on the one hand, are made tighter—and that, in fact, is what the CAA is doing at the moment—and it is for the Ministry of Agriculture, on the other hand, to see that the rules we make in the regulations in the light of what is said in both Houses of Parliament are really firm and effective but capable of change as the years go by. I therefore feel that the method by which it is done at the present time is the one which the Government find desirable.

Lord John-Mackie

Before we finish this short debate I should like to say that there is a slight suggestion from most noble Lords that there was criticism of the pilots. I certainly did not want to make any criticism at all of the pilots. I was simply criticising the margin of error that there is in using a plane, particularly a fixed-wing place, in spraying. I had some experience when with the Forestry Commission of spraying large areas of woodland in the North West of Scotland. A New Zealand pilot did it with a fixed-wing plane and I had nothing but admiration for the way he handled that plane and the accuracy with which he carried it out. But he was operating over a large area and a very sparsely populated area. Also, on my own farm I have seen pilots with helicopters operating among the trees and their skill was quite extraordinary. But, whatever you say, there is a very large margin of error. Anyone who has seen the errors that we make with tractors travelling at five to six miles an hour, opening up too quickly and blotting things out with double spray and so on, can imagine what could happen with a fixed-wing plane, irrespective of how skilful the pilot was. I thought I should like to make that point.

Lord Melchett

May I make a brief point? I was grateful to the noble Lord for giving me a straight answer to the question that I asked, although I must say that I find it bitterly disappointing, particularly as a farmer. I suspect that many of those involved in the manufacture and distribution of pesticides, and those involved on a commercial basis as contractors not using aircraft, will be bitterly disappointed as well. I cannot help asking when, oh! when, will the Ministry of Agriculture think about making concessions to widespread, deeply felt public concern about some aspect of modern agriculture before they are absolutely forced to do so and when no benefit is brought to the agricultural industry when the concession is made? Straw burning has been a good example and the Ministry, if they had introduced their new by-laws a couple of years earlier than they did, might well have made a dramatic difference to the way that the farming industry is seen by the public. If they had made some greater concessions to conservation interests when the Wildlife and Countryside Bill was being debated in this House and in another place, we should not now, two or three years later, be contemplating an amendment Bill. Surely, sooner or later the Ministry of Agriculture and the Government are going to have to recognise that they cannot continue to treat public opinion about agriculture with what seems to me to be contempt.

In this case we all recognise that there is deep-felt concern about aerial spraying and widespread support, at least in the Committee, for the idea that spraying from fixed-wing aircraft is not accurate and cannot be accurate enough. Surely, that is the sort of thing on which the Ministry ought to be giving a lead and saying, "Yes, we need to respond to this and not carry on as we are until we are forced to change and make the agricultural industry yet more unpopular with the general public".

Lord Belstead

I must say that I find that a most extraordinary intervention. What the noble Lord is saying to the Government is that, because he wants to have a ban and the Government do not want to have a ban, the Government must be wrong and the noble Lord must be right. I do not find that particularly self-evident. I should like to remind your Lordships that what the Government have been saying on this very important and deeply-felt area of aerial spraying is this: "Our intention is that the regulations to be made under Clause 15, if this Bill becomes law, would be to complement the controls exercised by the Civil Aviation Authority, who, in their turn, are very considerably tightening up on the Air Navigation Order. And we will do this by imposing controls on the environmental safety of aerial spraying".

I would remind the Committee, if I may, that under the PSPS currently we clear only the less toxic and less volatile pesticides for application from the air. This is a practice which undoubtedly would continue. Indeed, if I may just draw your Lordships' attention again to the Statement of Intention which I circulated, paragraphs 8 to paragraph 11 dealing with safety and efficacy, labelling and premises and training, would all apply to the regulations to be made on aerial spraying, including also, of course, the specific statement in paragraph 11 of the Statement of Intention that the range of possible controls and penalties on conviction for aerial spraying are going to be widened and not narrowed by the passing of this Bill.

I really think that my addition of that reply to the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, shows that, although we may not agree on the end which the noble Lord wishes to achieve, the noble Lord has made no secret of the fact that he simply wishes to ban this practice.

Lord Melchett


Lord Belstead

Well, I am sorry; but the noble Lord made it sound as if that is what he wished to do. Perhaps the noble Lord will be putting down an amendment to show us what it is that he wishes to do. I hope that I have made clear that although that is not what we wish to do, we are as concerned as the noble Lord and we are prepared to do something about it.

Lord Melchett

May I just reply to the noble Lord because he asked me specifically what my view was? I was supporting the amendment which has been moved by the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, and which has been supported by noble Lords on various sides of the Chamber. That is what my view was on this. I feel we ought to have a licensing system.

The Earl of Onslow

I support my noble friend on this. We had a very long debate on it on Thursday. My noble friend was quite categorical that he was going to tighten up the regulations very much. Those of us who take a pretty suspicious view of aerial spraying—and I certainly include myself among those—were very pleased to hear what he said, because he seemed to be going at least 95 per cent. of the way to meet the worries and concerns some of us feel over agricultural spraying; and, as somebody who has been quite critical on occasions, it might be just reasonable to say that I am actually on his side.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

If I may intervene in this debate, I think the Minister has obviously got the sense of what the Chamber feels with regard to aerial spraying. I should like to say that of course in our amendment we did not mention every eventuality—I hate to think what he would have said to me if we had done so. But one of the purposes, of course, was to probe the Government's attitude, and I must say I am somewhat encouraged because I think it is absolutely necessary for any future development of aerial spraying that the Government tighten up the regulations and rules and do away with the resentment—the very real and proper resentment—felt by the public.

I have had literature from various sources saying that only 154 complaints have been received by the CAA, and that sort of thing; but in fact when I was aerial spraying I found I got a kick-back, which did not come into official complaints, all round the place because people wondered what on earth was happening when aircraft spray was obviously seen to drift, sometimes well away from the crop sprayed. So if we are going to have new developments and if we are going to use aerial spraying at all, it needs to be enormously carefully regulated. I think there is an argument for saying that if you ban it or reduce it severely you will not have the aircraft available for the necessary work when you want to use this method.

I must say to the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, that I was grateful for his support. But the one thing an aircraft can do is to fly quite quickly from the South-East to the North, if you want to shift it about the country to spray different crops. I must say also to my noble neighbour that the question of spraying blight on potatoes, tall crops and so on, has been largely solved by the new width of booms. The one thing you cannot do, if you have to spray in an emergency, is to call up an aircraft out of the blue. You need to have an arrangement with the people involved.

So I do not think that there is a strong case for the necessity of aerial spraying at present over a great number of crops, but I see that the future may well require aerial spraying and it may well turn out to be a safer form of spraying. In order for that to be tolerated I think the Minister needs to develop the attitude he has shown and to take great care that the regulations are tightened and practices giving the offence they have given are stopped. With those remarks, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Earl Peel moved Amendment No. 69:

Page 14, line 8, at end insert— ("(1A) Regulations shall include a provision that all pesticides which at the date of the passing of this Act have not been approved under the Agricultural Chemicals Approval Scheme (or any modifications thereof) shall be submitted for such approval within two years of the date of the passing of this Act.").

The noble Earl said: In moving this amendment I am referring to the 3,700 or so pesticides which have been cleared under the Pesticides Safety Precautions Scheme but have not as yet been approved under the Agricultural Chemicals Approval Scheme (the ACAS scheme) for efficacy. I am quite satisfied that the efficacy testing of new products is covered under the proposed regulations. However, it is those products which are currently being used that really concern me, and those which have not been tested under the ACAS scheme. Obviously the sooner these pesticides are cleared for efficacy the better it is going to be for everyone, including of course the farmers themselves and ADAS who advise them.

6.45 p.m.

As your Lordships are obviously aware, there is a gross over-use of pesticides in the countryside at the moment, and I am always concerned by the idea of a representative of a company going round to farmers and saying, "You try this one and see how you get on". That is a somewhat unacceptable situation to be in and of course it is precisely the knowledge that the farmers themselves learn from this efficacy testing which leads them to use less chemicals. That, of course, is to everyone's benefit.

My noble friend the Minister said at Second Reading that it is the Government's intention to cover all products; and I appreciate that. However, he went on to say that it is not practicable to cover immediately all existing cleared pesticides. Of course, no one would expect them to be covered immediately, but I do not think it is unreasonable to ask my noble friend whether there could be some specific time limit on this. It is really a question of asking what is a practicable period. I would say to the noble Lord, two years, which is the amount of time I have put down in this amendment. I beg to move.

The Earl of Onslow

I think it is just worth commenting that this particular amendment, or something very like it, would be supported by the British Agrochemicals Association and also by the CLA, who I think actually drafted it, if the truth be known; and so they support it. Few, if any, of the products currently marketed actually do not work, in spite of what the Friends of the Earth say; but it would seem a good idea and I beg leave to support the amendment.

Lord Melchett

I support the amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Belstead, will remember that I raised this matter on Second Reading, in particular because the Ministry's press release on the Bill, which was put out on 9th November, said that for the first time all pesticides would be screened for efficacy as well as safety. The noble Lord, in replying to the debate on Second Reading, made it clear that it would not apply to all products immediately; it would apply to all new products immediately but for others there would have to be a period of time during which products would "come up" for efficacy—and the noble Lord actually said, "as their clearances are reviewed".

The first question I should like to ask him is this. Is there any set time period after which clearances would have to be reviewed and, if so, what is it? There have been numerous reports in the farming press that the chemical industry has been told there will be a five-year period, during which, so far as I can see from the report, all existing products will have to be cleared for efficacy. I do not know where that has come from, but it has been repeated more than once in farming papers and so I assume it has its origins in the noble Lord's department. It would be helpful if he could comment on whether that is accurate or not and, if it is, whether all products will be cleared in that period.

The Government have made quite a lot of the fact that for the first time under this legislation products will be cleared for efficacy as well as for safety and that this is the major step forward which the legislation allows for. I hope the noble Lord would accept that, if that is to be the case and if it is going to be a claim the Government can justly make, there needs to be a time period under which the existing products are cleared for efficacy. If there is not such a time period, the claim that the Bill advances safety by including this test will be difficult to sustain. I would hope that it could be done within the sort of time period proposed in the amendment.

Lord Belstead

I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Peel for moving very succinctly this important amendment. Just for the record, may I say something that I know your Lordships are aware of. Paragraph 4 of the statement of intent which we circulated makes it clear—and I now put it on the record in this Committee—that we would only consider granting full approval to products which have commercial clearance under the PSPS and have passed an efficacy criterion such as that provided by the Agricultural Chemicals Approval Scheme. Products which have only provisional or full commercial clearance under the PSPS would only be provisionally approved under the statutory scheme, pending review of their efficacy.

My noble friend and other noble Lords asked the question: how long will that take? Without doubt, it would be highly desirable to specify a period, but I will add to the statistics my noble friend presented in moving this amendment. Approximately 700 products are currently approved under the Agricultural Chemicals Approval Scheme, but under the PSPS (but without any other approval) there are around 4,000 products and a variety of areas of use of those products, including crop protection, rodenticides, chemicals for use in bulk food stores, home and garden products and wood preservatives. That figure is perhaps rather higher than my noble friend Lord Peel appreciated.

Arising from that, there are two problems in introducing an efficacy screening system for all pesticides. The first is that although efficacy testing systems have been established under the Agricultural Chemicals Approval Scheme for crop protection products, no such system exists for the other kinds of pesticides. Before we can require applicants to demonstrate that their product is efficacious, we have to decide exactly what data can be regarded as being sufficient evidence of efficacy. We are already working on this issue, and I have given an undertaking that in this, as in other areas, there will be consultations. But there are many classes of pesticides involved, and each class will probably require a somewhat different class of efficacy test. That is the first problem.

The second problem of timing is that if one subtracts 700 from 4,400 one is left with 3,600 products to be submitted for efficacy approval within two years, if this amendment were to be passed. That is 1,800 products per year, or 34 products per week. To do that in any sort of proper way would be asking us to rubber-stamp old products. The Ministry of Agriculture would certainly be able to undertake that task, and could probably complete it faster than two years; but we believe that this is something which your Lordships would deeply deplore.

What we are proposing is to review each product thoroughly in order to satisfy Parliament, ourselves and society at large that a product is demonstrated to be effective for the purposes for which it was designed and is used. Surely it is more satisfactory to do so at a reasonable pace than to rush through a paper exercise that would produce no real benefit. I say to my noble friend Lord Peel that it is surely reasonable, when the issue is one of environmental safety, and when our record to date is a good one, to embark on a deliberate and painstaking application of the new rules, so that each chemical will be considered on its true merits and classified accordingly.

We would not have introduced this Bill, and I would not be standing here speaking to this Bill, if we did not intend to complete that task as quickly as we can. But my parting words at the moment are that 3,600 products, quite apart from new applications, will have to be assessed. I promise my noble friend and other noble Lords who have spoken on this amendment that we shall do that as quickly as possible. But if a limit of two years were to be written into the Bill—and your Lordships will of course decide what you believe is right—then it really would come down to being almost just a paper exercise. I know that the Ministry in which I work would deplore that, and I believe that your Lordships, too, would deplore it.

The Earl of Onslow

Can my noble friend give some indication of the time span in which he considers that the task could be accomplished? That is the first part of my question. The second part is: how many of the 3,600 chemicals he mentioned will actually fall off the end and be replaced by new chemicals? I realise that is a difficult question to answer.

Lord Melchett

While the Minister is considering that question, may I ask him to reply also to the point I made concerning the five-year period which the farming press has reported manufacturers have been told is the period within which the remaining number of products will be cleared for efficacy? I have read two reports appearing in different papers in the middle of November which stated quite explicitly that manufacturers have been told there will be a five-year period to re-screen all the present, approved pesticides for efficacy. It would be helpful to know if that is the time period the Ministry has in mind.

Baroness Nicol

Can the Minister give some idea of the priorities he will be observing—not simply the total length of time involved, but to which particular types of pesticide priority will be given? What criteria will be used in that respect?

Lord Walston

I have one further question. As I understand this amendment, it says very clearly that products may be submitted for approval within a period of two years. That does not mean to say that the Ministry must grant approval, or otherwise, within a period of two years but that the manufacturer must submit the product within that time—and then it is up to the Ministry to deal with the matter as quickly as it reasonably can.

Lord Belstead

That is true. When I first read the amendment I thought for one moment that it was as though we would be required to agree to clear all applications within a period of two years. The noble Lord, Lord Walston, is quite right as far as that is concerned.

In reply to the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, we are thinking at the moment in terms of a five-year period so far as reviews are concerned. It must be subject to consultation, as to whether that provision, if the Bill becomes law, should be the subject of a regulation in that way. The noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, asked which pesticides we would deal with first in changing what is clearance only, but not approval under the Agricultural Chemicals Approval Scheme, into statutory clearance under the scheme. I believe I would be safe in saying we would try to go for the most toxic products first.

Earl Peel

I thank my noble friend for his reply, but I must confess that I am perhaps a little disappointed—although I realise the difficulties involved. My noble friend mentioned the Ministry's good record, and nobody could disagree with that. My noble friend is aware of the strong feeling in this Committee and has given his word that he intends to complete the task as quickly as possible. In the circumstances, that is probably all I can expect. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 70 not moved.]

Baroness Nicol moved Amendment No. 71:

Page 14, line 8, at end insert— ("( ) The regulations shall provide for the repeal of the Animals (Cruel Poisons) Regulation 1963 and the Grey Squirrels (Warfarin) Order 1973.").

The noble Baroness said: This is simply a probing amendment. The status of some existing legislation is not clear in relation to the proposed new Bill, and we simply want to find out—using this as a specimen—which existing legislation will be replaced in this particular case and what other existing legislation of this kind will be replaced by the Bill. I beg to move.

The Earl of Swinton

This amendment would require the removal of very specific and clear controls on the use of cruel poisons such as strychnine and on the use of warfarin to control a recognised agricultural pest. They have worked well for many years and have played an important part in protecting non-target species, particularly red squirrels, from the effects of the use of these poisons. I would hesitate to agree to the removal of such important controls until the implications have been fully considered in the light of any future pesticides approval scheme.

I now come to the part of my reply for which the noble Baroness is probably waiting. Once the new scheme is under way, it is our intention to review the operation of any other parallel controls. But clearly it would be premature to require their revocation in the way proposed.

Baroness Nicol

I am grateful for that reply and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

7 p.m.

Baroness Nicol moved Amendment No. 72:

[Printed earlier: col. 1504]

The noble Baroness said: I spoke to this amendment and Amendment No. 136 at our previous Committee sitting. In his reply to the debate on Amendment No. 47 the Minister said—and this gives me hope that he will accept these two amendments—that, there is not the slightest reason why my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment also should not make the regulations under this particular part of the Bill."—[Official Report, 6/12/84; col. 1507.] I hope that the amendment will, therefore, be accepted together with, in due course, Amendment No. 136. I beg to move.

Lord Belstead

There will be consultation with others in order to make the regulations. Therefore, I do not think it is appropriate just to put in that consultation should be with the Secretary of State for the Environment.

Baroness Nicol

I do not propose to press the amendment at this stage. We must look again at the whole question of the involvement of the Department of the Environment. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Earl of Radnor moved Amendment No. 73:

Page 14, line 8, at end insert— (" ( ) In exercising their powers under subsection (1) above the Ministers shall specify the maximum rates at which pesticides may be applied by reference to the maximum quantities of pesticides which may be applied to each unit of area or to each animal as the case may be.").

The noble Earl said: This amendment is of considerable importance. It takes us back to Amendment No. 62 where the noble Lord, Lord Walston, highlighted the difficulties for farmers under Clause 15(1)(g) in judging the residues which they might leave in their crops and for which, if they left the wrong residue, they could he held responsible. It seems to me that they should at least have some proper help from the Minister in this respect. If they do not, as far as I can see, they would have to rely on instructions from manufacturers and suppliers, which may or may not be correct, but which probably would be correct, and their own good judgment.

To complicate the issue, I would think that residues (the residual stuff, or whatever it is) left in, say, a cauliflower would possibly be influenced by soil conditions, the climatic conditions, and so on. The amendment suggests that the Minister should decree certain maximums, which I believe would be entirely to the Government's advantage. It would take some of the responsibility from the farmer. The Government, after all, have at their fingertips much scientific advice and will, of course, be careful because the whole of the Bill is directed towards protecting the environment. It seems quite proper that the Government should help the farmer in this way and not leave him in such a vulnerable position.

In the amendment "maximum" is specified. We have already debated the question of minimum applications and I shall not bore the Committee by repeating what I said previously. This is an important matter and I hope that the Government will take some serious note of it. I beg to move.

Lord Stanley of Alderley

I should like to take a slightly different attitude towards this amendment which has also been tabled to encourage lower rates of pesticide. I therefore ask my noble friend to explain why paragraph 9 and paragraph 2(c) of his regulation intentions (if I may call them that) mention minimum rates, which have also been mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Robson. Presumably my noble friend worries about the small, concentrated particles wandering around, but I worry—and this is why we have tabled the amendment—that the regulation might stifle new techniques. We all know that in the past chemicals have been recommended at much higher rates than we now use. Grammoxone is a perfect example which came on the market at two-and-a-quarter pints in 20 gallons; we are now possibly using only half or three-quarters. I do not want this minimum quantity to be stopped.

CDA and electrostatic sprayers may well be suited to very low concentrated usage; for example, as I have previously mentioned, if sprayed in oil. Here I come back again to the noble Baroness, Lady Robson—I am sorry she is not present—who said that such low dosage might create resistance. I am sure it would create resistance when using antibiotics, but I am not so sure that that would be the case with herbicides. I know that my noble friend has given an undertaking to encourage low rates of chemical. Indeed, my honourable friend Mrs. Fenner also commented on this before the Bill was introduced. But there is a great temptation for manufacturers to specify higher than necessary rates, if only to protect themselves. Therefore, we come again to the thorny problem arising from the word "efficacy". I am sorry to come back to this, but it is a difficult subject.

The amendment would give the farmer a guide, and a defence, as my noble friend Lord Radnor said, on how much chemical to use and would enable him to make a case should the residue in his crop be too high. I ask my noble friend, again, a question on efficacy. The amendment may cause problems on the efficacy front—that is, if higher rates than necessary are put in—with the chemical manufacturers. For instance, it is probably possible to make most herbicides kill anything if one quadruples the rate. Therefore, if the rate is controlled, the efficacy may be reduced. We therefore come to another problem to add to my noble friend's problem and the large list he gave when replying to Amendment No. 69. My noble friend said on Second Reading, as reported at column 701 of Hansard, that, of all products evidence must be given, not simply of safety but of efficacy as well. Therefore, my question is: How can efficacy be stated when so much is dependent on soil type and on different chemicals and formulations responding differently to different soil types?

The Earl of Swinton

Perhaps I may answer first the two explicit questions from my noble friend Lord Stanley. The minimum dilution rate states that X amount of product must be dissolved or mixed in at least Y litres of water. Such a minimum dilution rate is set to ensure that the spray issuing from a machine is not dangerous to the spray operator or bystanders.

Obviously, when my noble friend referred to his noble friend and column 701 he was referring to my noble friend Lord Belstead and what he said. I hope I can give the explanation of "efficacy" such as my noble friend would give it. By "efficacy" We mean the ability of a product to do the job claimed for it on the label. Our technical experts in MAFF and the Health and Safety Executive are discussing the details of a definition of "efficacy" and the minimum standards which we shall require pesticide manufacturers to meet. Eventually we shall discuss our proposals with the industry and all others involved.

But I think there is a much shorter and simpler explanation why I cannot accept the amendment. I do not believe it to be appropriate to make such a detailed provision in an enabling Bill, for the reason that pesticides vary greatly in formulation and use. While we could, and would, accept maximum application rates as described in this amendment for almost all, if not all, agricultural pesticides, it would not be helpful to be obliged to set maximum application rates for all pesticides. For example, it would not be appropriate to set a rate for rodenticides which specified how many rat holes one could treat within one barn, or precisely how much powder one was permitted to put down each hole. I hope, therefore, that my noble friends will agree that the amendment is unnecessary and that such detailed provisions are best left to regulations. Rats!

The Earl of Onslow

It is obviously joke time on the Front Bench! The Germans have regulations on the maximum amount of stuff that can be put on the ground. I think that certainly that should be brought into the regulations. I think it should be there unless there is a reason why it should not be there. That might be a good way of doing it. Secondly, if we are going to go towards a Community-wide system of regulations, which I think we all agree we should, the more we concur with our neighbours, the better.

The Earl of Swinton

I am grateful to my noble friend for saying that. Unfortunately, I do not know the German for, "Rats!" To be serious, my noble friend has kindly given us a copy of what the Germans are doing. We shall have a look at that. But for the reasons I have given concerning rats and rodenticides, we cannot accept the amendment as it is now worded.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

Does that mean that the Minister will accept the amendment in a different form?

The Earl of Swinton

Not necessarily.

Lord Melchett

I have been listening to this, and I am not entirely clear. If the amendment had "may" instead of "shall", so that it did not oblige the noble Lord to produce regulations on rodenticides and would remove rats from his mind for a moment, if that is possible, and allow him to concentrate simply on the other things, where he said that regulations might be desirable, would he be able to accept the amendment?

The Earl of Swinton

I think I shall have to keep the noble Lord in a state of extreme suspense over Christmas to see what my reaction would be should such an amendment be put down.

The Earl of Radnor

I have listened to my noble friend's answer. I am not sure who will be kept in suspense over Christmas. After all, we can always bring back another amendment if we wish.

I think my noble friend said that on the whole—I am paraphrasing—it would be quite possible to have some arrangement such as this, where maximums were outlined by the Government, and he then produced a rather way-out (if one likes) instance where it would not be appropriate. It seems to me that perhaps in his heart of hearts he is slightly on my side over this amendment. If it were rephrased, with exceptions put in, and worded in a different way, it might be acceptable. It still seems to me that it is a matter of great importance. I feel worried by the fact that farmers have to make these decisions. They are either going to get into trouble, I think on occasions not through their own fault, or they are going to do the job improperly because they will leave such a wide safety margin.

Although I am prepared to withdraw the amendment, I shall certainly go away and see whether it can be reframed for a later stage of the Bill to suit my noble friends on the Front Bench. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

7.15 p.m.

Lord Stanley of Alderley moved Amendment No. 74:

Page 14, line 8, at end insert— ("( ) In exercising their powers under subsection (1) above the Ministers shall make such arrangements as may be appropriate to ensure that all applications for the use of safe pesticides imported to the United Kingdom are cleared within seven working days of receipt, free of charge to the applicant.").

The noble Lord said: In 1981 British farmers woke up to the fact that they could obtain on the continent for a fraction of the cost chemicals similar to those used in the United Kingdom. The result was that farmers' vans visited France and returned not with champagne but Dicuraine. Needless to say, there was an outcry from British manufacturers, who alleged that what was being purchased abroad was different from and/or inferior to the British product. It may be that some of the charges were correct; some certainly were not. But the proof of the pudding was in the eating. Many British chemicals fell drastically in price, and for once, I might say, we had a smile on our faces.

Some of those imported chemicals, although similar to British approved ones, were, of course, not approved by PSPS. That did not matter because, as we all know, the scheme was, and indeed is, voluntary. But now, under this Bill, approval will be needed by law, so we have a problem: how to allow free inter-Community trade, which is required by the Treaty of Rome—and, indeed, my noble friend Lord Belstead made a point of that on Second Reading—and, on the other side, make sure that imported chemicals are safe and get rapid legal approval, as required by the Bill? I know that my noble friend Lord Belstead is aware of the problem. On Second Reading (at column 736) he assured your Lordships' House that the Government would give rapid clearance to similar chemicals free of any fees next year.

I therefore have to ask him whether it will be possible for a farmer, as in 1981, to drive to collect those similar chemicals. How will he get clearance under the Bill if he wants to do such a thing? What is an identical product? Is it the active ingredient of the chemical, is it the formulation, or is it both? What will be the position if the chemical is identical but less (and I come back to that horrible word) efficacious? Will it he cleared rapidly? Must the label necessarily be in English? I should like my noble friend to assure me that the Government will make available sufficient resources to deal with those problems.

To help him along that path, I hope he will accept the amendment, which would ensure clearance of these similar chemicals within seven working days free of any clearance charge—I would call it not a clearance charge, but an import charge. Without this amendment, I fear that British farmers will be disadvantaged compared to their European counterparts—I know that I have said that before—and we shall return to the pre-1981 situation, with no cool breeze of competition. I beg to move.

Lord Northbourne

I think that the noble Lord, Lord Stanley, has amply covered the subject. I added my name to the amendment because I believed that he ought to nudge the Minister towards committing himself to a time limit. Whether the one that we have put down is the right one I do not know, but I should be glad of an assurance that a time limit will be set for the clearance of chemicals under these circumstances.

Lord Monk Bretton

I also wish to support my noble friend the mover of the amendment. I should not wish again to see licensing cause a barrier under which United Kingdom agro-chemicals start to cost more than they do in the EEC. The price discrepancy arose under the present scheme. I think that if it had not arisen, a potent cause for this legislation would not have arisen. It certainly helped to precipitate this Bill.

My noble friend Lord Stanley has spoken very adequately on it. I know the amendment is opposed in certain quarters. Nevertheless, I hope my noble friend the Minister does not give way on this and that rapid approval for similar imported chemicals may be obtained.

Lord Melchett

It is important to note, however, that there is a conflict between the importance of farmers in this country having access to chemicals which are cheaper on the continent, if they are exactly the same as chemicals cleared in this country, and safety if the products are not identical. The amendment to some extent goes round this question by simply leaving it in the amendment unanswered, by saying that a chemical which is safe may be imported in seven days. The question is: how do you determine whether it is safe? How do you know it is safe? If it is an identical product in every respect, there is no problem.

I speak as a farmer looking with some anxiety at the costs of growing cereals next year and at the likely returns. I hope the Government will do all they can to make sure that cheaper products are available but not at the expense of the safety which they will now be imposing by law. May I say to the noble Lord, Lord Stanley, that I think those who are concerned about safety and the environmental consequences of pesticide use in this country would be less worried if we already had strict rules about pesticide use as have countries like West Germany. Our farmers are in an extremely favourable position at the moment compared with at least some in the Common Market. If we had strict regulations such as in West Germany, free imports from them would be no problem. But they have banned 20 chemicals which we commonly use in agriculture. It is not good enough to say that we must not have any restrictions which do not apply in the rest of Europe, and at the same time say that we must not have any of the restrictions which apply in the rest of Europe placed on ourselves.

Lord Belstead

I have a great deal of sympathy with the aim of this amendment. I hope what I can say in reply comes very near to it, although it does not fully meet it. Our intentions are to have a rapid clearance system for imports. I hope that it is going to be truly rapid. The important point is that there should be genuine competition between identical products and we most certainly intend to provide for that. I should like to take the opportunity, in replying to my noble friend's amendment, to assure the Committee that the envisaged arrangements for the quick clearance of imported products identical to those already available in the United Kingdom will be as straightforward as is possible within the confines of our responsibility to ensure that all products are safe for use.

Incidentally, I am saying this after dicussions which have been held between the Ministry of Agriculture and the Community. For the purposes of these quick clearance arrangements one product would be considered to be identical to another if the active ingredients in both products are the same and are produced by the same company. The formulations of both products should also be the same within the variations agreed as tolerable by the United Kingdom approving authority in approving the original product.

In order to demonstrate that two products are identical we will have to require the importer to provide certain basic information such as a copy of the label of the imported product together with its batch number, brief details of the product already cleared in this country and a copy of the instructions in English that will be attached to the imported product before its use in this country. As I say, the procedure has been discussed with the Community and with the British Agrochemicals Association. It has also been discussed with the National Farmers Union. I think it is fair to claim that all have agreed that in principle this is a way forward and we would put it into practice as soon as possible.

So far as those last words are concerned, I must make it absolutely clear to my noble friend Lord Stanley that what we feel we have to do is to start a non-statutory system from 1st January of next year, free of charge. I trust that was the undertaking I gave on Second Reading. When we start the statutory system there would subsequently have to be a fee charged. I would not at this stage wish to be committed to any preferential system of charging for any one group of applicants for approval but the assurance I can give is that the fee to be charged on an individual farmer's imports would I believe be very reasonable.

My noble friend asked me some specific questions of which, as he has with others, he very kindly gave me notice. My noble friend asked, "Will it be possible for a farmer to collect chemicals, as was done previously?" A farmer will be able to do that and then submit them for the quick clearance procedure. "Is a chemical identical if it is less efficacious?" my noble friend asked. The answer to that of course is no, because that means it would be in a different formulation and therefore not identical.

May I just add one last remark. This amendment would wish all this to be done within seven days. To be perfectly honest with the Committee, I think that nine times out of ten we can do it in seven days. But to be tied down to that is not just a Government department saying that they do not want that restriction to be put on them but it would not be for the convenience of the farming community. You might find in particular cases that something happens which makes the seven days not quite possible to meet. I therefore give an undertaking to the Committee that we would do our very best to see that it is kept down to only a matter of days.

I should remind the Committee that this would be a very beneficial method of clearing products. It would not be done in the ports. It might be done when the product is still on the continent of Europe. It might be done, I am advised, after a product has come in but before it has been used. I believe that whole matter would be dealt with in a reasonably straight-forward and easy way. It would nonetheless ensure that imported chemicals, unless they are absolutely indentical in the way that I have described, would have then to be cleared just the same as any other chemicals being manufactured in this country. I believe that is fair. I believe that this system will work well. I hope that my noble friend will not press me on the exact seven day period.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

I was interested in the procedure. I wonder whether the Minister could say if any analysis would be carried out at any time. As I understood his reply, the clearance would be done on the information supplied by the manufacturer. Is he satisfied that that is enough and that the regulations on the continent—if that is where we are getting it from—are strict enough to proceed on information supplied in that manner?

Lord Belstead

Yes, we are. It is true that it will be a paper exercise but it is a paper exercise which will be based on some details which I outlined when I was speaking. Certainly the Community for their part believe that this will work properly, that this is a proper basis for saying that one product is identical to another. As I understand it, the British Agrochemicals Association believe that this is a sensible way forward, and my advice is that the National Farmers Union are at the moment feeling the same way from their point of view and that this would be a sensible and a safe way to proceed.

Lord Stanley of Alderley

I have found this a very interesting debate. I shall have to come back to it at Report. Perhaps the first point of interest to me was the noble Lord, Lord Melchett's remark that most chemicals on the continent are more strictly looked at than they are here. If that is the case, it seems to me that we have not a problem with safety when we are importing. So far as the remarks of my noble friend Lord Belstead are concerned, I thought he was going to be more helpful in what he said than he was. Relating to ingredients, he first of all said yes they would be the same if it was the same company. I am not so sure what happens if it is a different company. It seems to me that very often the company will be different but the ingredients the same. Maybe, I misheard my noble friend. I shall read his remarks very carefully. My noble friend also did not say anything about a different formulation. It sounds to me, in respect of these two cases—if it was a different formulation and it was a different company even though the same ingredient—we would not get rapid clearance. I feel that we want to look at this.

7.30 p.m.

Then there is the question of charges. As I understand it, my noble friend said that there would be what I call an import charge on these identical chemicals for rapid clearance after the year. I shall again read what he had to say. I think that I would ask for more than one year even though I fully accept that at Second Reading he only promised one year.

Lastly, we come back to this horrible word "efficacious". He said that if they were not so efficacious as a similar chemical, they could not get rapid clearance. I am worried about that. If they were less efficacious, because they were weaker or something, I cannot see why they should not get rapid clearance. I shall not go on about this, because I must read my noble friend's very helpful remarks, or, rather, I do not know how helpful they were, but certainly explanatory remarks, between now and Christmas and make up my mind whether I want to ask more questions after Christmas. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 74A not moved.]

The Earl of Swinton

I think that this may be a convenient time to adjourn the Committee for dinner. May I suggest that we do not return to this Committee before 8.30 p.m.? I beg to move that the House do now resume.

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

House resumed.