HL Deb 22 November 1984 vol 457 cc697-738

4.13 p.m.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Lord Belstead)

My Lords, I beg to move that the Food and Environment Protection Bill be read a second time. This Bill deals with three subjects—contamination of food, deposits in the sea, and pesticides—each of which is relevant to protection of food and the environment. I hope that this legislation will underline the major environmental role of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in these and other areas of its responsibilities.

Environmental issues have a tendency to become more complex as time goes by. This reflects in part our success in tackling some of the more obvious aspects of the legacy from Victorian industrialisation. It reflects our growing knowledge of the subject and our scientists' ability to measure effects which were previously overlooked; and it reflects the growing public interest in these questions.

It is here that a Bill of this kind has to face a difficulty which is inherent in many environmental issues. It would be impossible for Government, however lengthy their legislation might be, to eliminate every single aspect of risk from our lives. We have to focus on issues as they become clearly identified, assess their relative priorities and do our best to deal with them specifically.

The priorities in the Bill are to safeguard our food supplies (that is Part I), to protect the marine environment (Part II), and to set up a new statutory framework for approval and use of pesticides (in Part III). I emphasise that we shall see all these exercises, and particularly that relating to pesticides, as part of a continuing dialogue with all the different responsible interests concerned, whether those interests identify themselves mainly with the environment or with industry. Indeed, I do not think really that the distinction between industry and environmental interests is particularly helpful, as usually each is aware of the need to take account of the interests of the other. What Government have to do is to listen and in due course to put proposals to Parliament. So in the part of this Bill dealing with pesticides this proposed legislation would establish a framework, to be supplemented with regulations.

I would emphasise equally that this Bill is not designed to restrain trade. A basically free market system can work best within a fair regulatory framework. This Bill is intended to set higher standards for protection of food and the environment without obstructing the industries concerned.

Perhaps I may say a few words about Part I of the Bill. This would provide greater protection to the public in the event of food becoming unsuitable for consumption following a release of harmful substances. I would make it quite clear that the powers here would be activated only in the most serious of emergencies where there was a threat to the safety of food. In the past we have relied on voluntary arrangements, which have worked well on the very few occasions they were used. The fact that we are taking statutory powers does not mean that we expect a serious incident. We do, however, regard immediate counter-measures as a prudent insurance policy.

Your Lordships will recall the terrible accident at Seveso in Italy in 1976, involving the release of highly toxic chemicals which widely contaminated the surrounding districts. We have, thankfully, never experienced an accident of such magnitude in this country. We have had serious accidents involving harmful chemicals, but none has affected the safety of food to the extent that emergency prohibitions under the Bill would have been introduced.

A good example is the sinking of the "Aeolian Sky" off Portland Bill in November 1979. The ship was carrying highly toxic chemicals. In the event, the cargo was securely stowed and was not breached, and the accident did not occur in an area of major importance to fisheries. Your Lordships will appreciate, however, that the circumstances could have been very different if the accident had involved the spillage of highly toxic substances in the rich North Sea fishing grounds at the height of the fishing season.

One of the most important features of Part I is that the procedures could be operated very quickly if the situation demanded, within hours of an incident. Clause 1 provides for emergency orders which would prohibit any or all of the activities listed in Schedule 1. Emergency orders would come into effect immediately but would require affirmative resolution of both Houses of Parliament in order to continue beyond 28 days.

After an emergency order has been made, Clause 2 gives Ministers the power to give directions as to how unsuitable foodstuffs should be dealt with. The power to give directions would continue beyond the expiry of the emergency order in case food that had been rendered unsuitable subsequently came to light.

Clause 3 deals with the authorisation of investigating and enforcement officers. Investigating officers would give advice following an incident—whether an emergency order should be made, and what restrictions should be imposed. Enforcement officers would enforce the emergency orders and Ministers' directions. A distinction is made between the two functions because investigation would require greater powers; in particular, the power to act before an emergency order was made.

Similarly, in Clause 4 and Schedule 2, which deal with the powers of entry, I hope your Lordships will feel that care has been taken; and in particular paragraph 7 of Schedule 2 provides that entry to a dwelling can be effected only by means of a magistrate's warrant.

Part II of the Bill extends and inproves the controls in our existing legislation—the Dumping at Sea Act 1974—while retaining the basic principles underlying that Act. The changes are those which 10 years' experience has shown to be necessary to improve the protection of the environment.

Your Lordships may recall that legal control of dumping at sea began with the Oslo and London Conventions, both signed in 1972. The Oslo Convention, related to the North East Atlantic—an area which covers all the seas round our shores—while the London one is worldwide. They otherwise have broadly similar provisions, which were implemented in the United Kingdom by the Dumping at Sea Act 1974.

Control is exerted by means of a licensing system. Applicants have to submit full details and a sample of the material they wish to deposit, and these are scrutinised closely by scientists working for the licensing authority. Only if the authority is quite satisfied that the operation can safely be carried out is a licence issued.

I know that concern is sometimes expressed about the safety of dumping at sea and the possible long-term consequences. The Government believe that the state of the seas around our shores is generally good and that dumping, if properly controlled, does not pose a threat to them, either immediately or in the longer term. Dumping in fact accounts for only a small proportion of the total inputs of contaminants into the sea, and it has to be said that in general rivers and land-based discharges account for a much higher proportion.

In Part II, Clause 5 sets out the activities which are to require a licence. The framework here is similar to that in the 1974 Act, but there are a number of changes. First, deposit from floating containers and the scuttling of vessels, together with their related activities of towing and propelling, are included for the first time. Secondly, deposit by foreign vessels loaded in the United Kingdom would now be licensed out to British fishery limits, rather than just within territorial waters. This is an additional control which I hope your Lordships will welcome.

Clause 6 extends a very similar system of licensing control to incineration at sea; another activity which was not mentioned at all in the 1974 Act. Marine incineration is used to dispose of liquid industrial wastes, especially organochlorine compounds, whose composition makes them less suitable for disposal by means of land-based incineration or treatment. In order to ratify the Protocol which the Oslo Convention agreed in 1983, the United Kingdom needs to be able to lay down detailed conditions on those matters, and we should be able to do this by using Clause 6 and the provision to impose conditions in Clause 8.

There is just one other aspect of Part II to which I would draw particular attention. Although Clause 8, together with Schedule 3, deals with licensing procedures on similar lines to the Dumping at Sea Act, there would be broader discretion for granting licences or imposing conditions, so that the fullest appraisal could be made of applications for deposit or incineration. Ministers would also have power to broaden the basis of the licence fees to include the costs of monitoring, a change which was recommended by a Rayner Scrutiny of the Ministry of Agriculture's research and development.

In Part III of the Bill the proposed controls over pesticides are again inspired by the search for safer standards of environmental protection. The present non-statutory control system—the Pesticides Safety Precautions scheme—has provided us with a good safety record in the use of pesticides over the 27 years since it was first introduced. However, it has come under pressure in recent years because of the import of uncleared pesticides and from criticism by the European Commission about its trade implications. It was these pressures which first led us to decide that we should come to Parliament with statutory proposals concerning pesticides. But we have taken this opportunity also to review the whole scope of pesticide controls, and in our review we have been greatly assisted by comments and advice from all quarters with an interest in the way pesticides are used. Following the debate on this issue prompted by the Seventh Report of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, we are committed to ensuring that United Kingdom pesticide use is the minimum necessary to ensure the efficient production and distribution of food and to safeguard human health. In doing this we seek to reconcile what are sometimes two contradictory needs.

On the one hand, the use of crop protection products had made the old hand-sower's rhyme of, One for the rat, One for the crow, One for to rot And one for to grow a thing of the past. We have achieved, as we all know, high levels of productivity, and we depend to a degree on pesticides to maintain that productivity. On the other hand, we need to protect the environment from the risks arising from the use of pesticides.

So Clause 15 provides the powers to ensure that all pesticides intended for use in the United Kingdom will be required by law to be submitted for scrutiny before being marketed. Until now, we have been largely dependent on the good will of the pesticides manufacturing and distributing industries to enforce similar provisions under the voluntary scheme; and I think that their co-operation in, and support for, the PSPS has been ample evidence of the responsible attitude which they have taken. Nevertheless, the scheme's dependence on a restrictive agreement between manufacturers and suppliers—that they would handle only products cleared under the PSPS—created a conflict of loyalty for suppliers. They were faced on the one side with that agreement and on the other with the possibility of supplying customers with products from overseas, which are sometimes cheaper. This situation was not really tenable.

This clause would also allow us to impose conditions before pesticides are approved under a statutory scheme. Many of these conditions will be familiar to those who operate within the existing schemes, but for the first time we shall be demanding of all products evidence not simply of safety, but of efficacy as well. Under the conditions of approval we intend to ensure that no pesticide will be released on to the United Kingdom market unless it is demonstrably beneficial to agriculture, horticulture or public health.

The clause would also extend pesticide controls to the field of use—and this is a major change. At present safety often depends upon the user adhering to recommended conditions of use on the label, and the record of pesticides in human safety demonstrates the care with which the great majority follow the recommendations. We are, however, faced with an increasing range of concerns, from water and wildlife interests to residue levels at the point of consumption of food; an increasing range of pesticide types; an increasing range of systems of application; and, very likely, an increasing degree of competition for market shares. In these circumstances it does not seem feasible to control the environmental effect of pesticides at the approval stage alone, and that is why it is intended that the new scheme will exert statutory controls over use.

It is not, of course, our intention to create a straitjacket for the farming industry, and I am confident that we can develop ground rules for the application of pesticides which are sufficiently strict for the risk involved but permit the development and use of new and more effective practices and application systems. I know that some people are concerned that third world countries may import pesticides which are banned or restricted in use in the source country. This Bill proposes to take powers to require information from producers and exporters which will enable us to meet any international obligations in this area.

Many people have expressed concern that, as far as they can see, this Bill will not provide powers to control particular aspects of pesticide supply and use, despite what I have endeavoured to say to your Lordships already. Examples often quoted are aerial spraying, product labels and packaging, and application rates. I should like to give a reassurance to your Lordships today that the powers in Clause 15 are sufficiently broad to cover the full range of conditions which might affect safety and efficacy. It is noticeable, for instance, that Clause 15 would also enable maximum residue limits to be set for pesticides in food crops and animal feedingstuffs, which, once again, represents a move away from dependence on approval alone, for our safety arrangements.

As regards the regulations to be made under this clause, I should like to emphasise two points. First, the Bill requires us, as is proper, to consult the Health and Safety Commission on any regulations affecting worker health or safety. We shall also consult, in detail, all groups or organisations with an interest in pesticides use before settling the details of these regulations. Secondly, and even more importantly, these regulations will be made by the affirmative resolution procedure, thus affording opportunity for debate in both Houses before they are made.

The remaining clauses in Part III provide what one might call "good housekeeping" powers, in that Clause 16 would enable Ministers to charge fees to persons seeking approval in order to recover the costs of scrutiny and assessment, and Clause 17, together with Schedule 2, provides the powers necessary to enforce the provisions I have described. In this context, I am sure the House will wish to note that we envisage a requirement for additional staff in both the Health and Safety Executive and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, in order to ensure that we can and do achieve the improvements and environmental protection which we seek.

In the remainder of the Bill, Clause 20 provides a defence of "due diligence", which applies generally to the offences throughout the Bill, and mitigates the otherwise strict liability which would apply. This will protect people who have taken steps to avoid the commission of an offence, but who, through no fault of their own, have committed a certain act.

I apologise for a rather long introductory speech on what is a three-part Bill. It is not without some complications and, if it is acceptable to your Lordships, I shall distribute Notes on Clauses after the weekend.

The Government believe in the highest standards of environmental protection that we can achieve. In the three areas of food safety, marine pollution and pesticides this Bill identifies major issues or concern and introduces practical legislation to deal with them in each of the three areas of the Bill. I think it goes a long way to reconcile the twin demands of a safer environment and maintenance of prosperous commerce and industry, and in doing so it will introduce a higher standard of safety for all concerned. My Lords. I beg to move.

Moved. That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Belstead.)

4.35 p.m.

Lord John-Mackie

My Lords, the Minister has made a very good job of introducing this Bill. He has apologised for taking rather a long time. Quite frankly, he indicated to me that he might be longer, so it is a surprise that he took less than 20 minutes, which I shall do my best to emulate. It is amazing how brotherly love spreads across political parties.

The noble Lord made a very good introduction, particularly of the background to the Bill and the necessity for it. He finished by saying that it is only a three-part Bill, but it is not without considerable complications—and he can say that again! The Bill does not give us a lot to get our teeth into, as it is basically an enabling Bill giving the Government power to enforce certain regulations which I think we are going to know something about before the Committee stage. I note that we are to get some Notes on Clauses from the Minister after the Second Reading. However, in an effort to help the Government—and we are alway anxious to do that, because they need help—we had better have look at it.

Looking at Part I, we note that: 'designating authority' means the Ministers or either of them". Looking at the interpretation clause and schedules, it appears that this means the noble Lord and his Minister. There is a point later on in the Bill where it says. "Ministers may jointly". Does that mean that they have to agree, and what happens if they disagree? I have been in Parliament for the best part of 20 years, and official interpretations of things sometimes puzzle me even now.

Anyhow, what about the environment Ministers? This Bill is entitled the Food and Environment Protection Bill. Are the environment Ministers not to have any say in this? I thought that there were too many Ministers enjoying (if "enjoying" is the right word) some say in this Bill. If there is a crisis situation they may take a while to come to a decision, so we should know exactly what is the position there.

The power which this designating authority is given is to take emergency powers and ultimately to revoke these powers. Under subsection (8) of Clause 1, the revocation of these powers seems to be slightly complicated, and, again, parliamentary language and wording has rather bemused me here. It seems to me that if there were an occasion, which is mentioned in the Bill, where a crop might be affected by bad spraying, or one thing and another, under Part I, the area or the farm itself could be closed down. If this should happen and the period of 28 days starts at the beginning of a recess, does this mean that it might be anything up to a couple of months or so before that farm could be cleared? Points like that are a little difficult to understand.

There is a rather amusing point—if I may say that about the Bill—in subsection (9) of Clause 1, which reads: An order under this section which—

  1. (a) wholly or partly revokes an emergency order; and
  2. (b) does nothing else".
That seems to be rather a peculiar way of putting it. If there is an emergency, can this be done as quickly or as efficiently—and the noble Lord mentioned today what has been done as regards Part I—as a local authority could do it? I very much doubt it. Why not give the enhanced powers, which this Bill is giving to the Ministers and designating authority, to the local authorities, who already do the job? Have they ever failed? I think the Minister admitted that they have never failed to carry out this job very well in any of the situations that have arisen. Perhaps I could mention my own town of Aberdeen where there was a very bad case of food poisoning caused by tinned meat. The poisoning spread all over the town. The local medical officer did his job so well that he was made not only Man of Year but was given an MBE, too.

We ought to look very carefully at whether all these powers should be given to the Ministers in question. Has there ever been an incident which warrants the draconian powers contained in the Bill? The Minister mentioned his fear that a ship which was carrying poison might go down. Do the Government fear that there may be a major disaster which would affect food and that therefore these regulations are required? That is quite apart from all the idiots who have recently been trying to poison Mars Bars. The Minister has a duty to answer the point about whether it is necessary for Ministers to have all these powers when local authorities have done the job satisfactorily until now.

Turning to Part II of the Bill, I believe that the Government undoubtedly have a part to play. Pollution of the sea is a world-wide problem. I have two points to make on this part of the Bill. Severe restrictions had to be placed upon the total allowable catch of fish in European waters. We know that these restrictions are necessary, largely because of the overfishing which has taken place in the past. There is no doubt however that pollution has also played a big part. I am sure that our fishermen will welcome greater control of pollution around our coasts. Regarding the poisoning of salmon in river mouths, may I ask the Minister whether this is dealt with in Part II or Part I of the Bill? Salmon poisoning is widespread. A great deal of marine fish farming takes place in the sea lochs. I should like to know whether Part I or Part II of the Bill deals with this problem.

I note that the Bill will repeal the Dumping at Sea Act 1974. However, the Bill states that the Government may—I repeat the word "may"—continue to make payments to international organisations. As I have already mentioned, pollution of the sea is a world-wide problem. I hope that the Government will not withdraw from their international obligations, however voluntary those obligations may be. I am not sure whether an obligation can be voluntary, but I trust that the noble Lord understands what I mean.

I turn now to Part III of the Bill. To judge from the amount of lobbying that I have had—already enough to fill a fairly big waste paper basket, though I am not suggesting for a moment that that is where the material should go—it is obvious that the general public are very interested in this matter, as well as the farmers, chemical companies, sprayer manufacturers and the environmental lobby, which the Minister emphasised. I began spraying in the summer of 1927. I applied bordeaux mixture—copper sulphate and lime—to prevent blight in potatoes. The sprayer was horse drawn. It consisted of just a barrel on two wheels. The barrel was filled by buckets. Such a sprayer was to be seen on very few farms in our area—in fact, in very few parts of the country at that time. Sprayers are now to be found upon nearly every farm in the country. Every crop is sprayed for one reason or another. Last year we sprayed one crop, for various reasons, five times. In 1948, 216 pesticide products were approved for efficacy. At 1982 values they were worth just over £70 million. By 1982—my figures are not up to date—these products had increased in number to 700 and contained 200 different chemicals which represented a value of £542 million, of which home sales were about £270 million. As I have already mentioned, I do not possess up to date figures, but they would show a considerable increase upon those that I have just quoted. I mention these figures in order to demonstrate the magnitude of the spraying programme and its obvious importance to agriculture. The Minister rightly emphasised this point.

Part III of the Bill sets out to provide general powers to control the supply and use of pesticides or"— as is mentioned elsewhere— to ensure their safe and efficient use". All this is to be carried out by regulation. Therefore, until we see the regulations I shall make no comment. All I would say is that naturally we support the general principle that spraying has to be controlled and must be looked at from every angle.

There are one or two points that I should like to make about spraying. The PSPS—the Pesticides Safety Precautions Scheme—which has been in operation for the past 27 years has been very successful. There have been very few spraying accidents. This does not mean that we should not try to prevent any accidents. The PSPS has been very successful. There is also an independent body, the Advisory Committee on Pesticides. One hopes that full use will be made of these bodies, with all the experience that they have accumulated over the years. I should like to make the same point about testing. Any company which produces a new or improved product tests it exhaustively. Surely an observer at these tests would avoid double testing, as is suggested in the Bill, and would therefore save a great deal of money. Spraying is an expensive operation. Therefore any saving is to be welcomed.

I note that the word "pesticide" is interpreted as covering all the sprays which are used, whatever they may be. The pesticide controls pests. Fungicides are used to control fungus diseases, and herbicides are used to kill weeds or, as the Bill says, "undesired plants". As my American friend said, there is no such thing as a weed; it is only a "plant in the wrong place". I am glad that the Ministry appreciate that point. However, when one looks at paragraph (c) of subsection (7) of Clause 15 one has to ask what "harmful creatures" means. This phrase could cover a whole host of pests other than insects on our crops: rats, mice, squirrels, sparrows, wood pigeons. A much better definition is needed than simply "harmful pests". Is rat poison going to be included? One could go on. The definitions seem to me to leave much to be desired. There is much that one could say about the technicalities of spraying and the efficacy of sprays which could be affected by the regulations. There is the argument about hydraulic sprays versus controlled droplets and electrostatics. Until the regulations appear we can say little about the matter. Therefore we had better wait until they do appear.

I have not dealt with the environmental problem caused by spraying. I shall leave it to the good sense of those who are to speak about the environmental factors during our debate, and also to my very sensible colleague who is to wind up for the Opposition. However, I should like to mention two of the points which have been raised frequently in the lobbying: aerial spraying and spraying alongside public footpaths and public roads. There is a case (I say this advisedly) for saying that if a farmer wishes to spray from the air—whether by means of a fixed wing aircraft or a helicopter, although the helicopter is much more accurate than a fixed wing aircraft—he should have to justify it. However, aerial spraying should not be banned completely. Forestry requires aerial spraying. Bracken on the hillsides also requires aerial spraying. Therefore I could not suggest that aerial spraying should be banned. If however a farmer wishes to carry out aerial spraying of arable land, I believe that he should have to justify the need for it.

On the question of spraying alongside public roads and footpaths, this is a difficult subject. I have five bridlepaths or footpaths running through my farm of 430 arable acres. If I were banned from spraying either side of those paths, nearly half the farm could not be sprayed. Any regulation along those lines would put me out of business, nearly. So we look forward to a meaningful Committee stage of this Bill and to receiving some of the regulations and explanations for which I and other noble Lords have asked and will be asking. Meanwhile, we give this Bill our blessing as it is a necessary Bill, and we look forward to learning further particulars.

4.50 p.m.

Lord Walston

My Lords, at the outset I have two interests to declare. The first is as a farmer and a substantial user of sprays; the second is as a director of a company manufacturing such sprays for use throughout the United Kingdom. I hope that in spite of that your Lordships will acquit me of any undue bias in those things which I have to say.

First, we on these Benches support this Bill. I speak for the Alliance, and when my noble friend Lord Mackie of Benshie winds up I do not believe there will be much difference between us. So far as it goes, it is a good Bill. The general approach is correct. What it is attempting to do is correct. There are certain points in the Bill which we feel could be strengthened and improved, but perhaps we can pursue some of these in rather more detail at the Committee stage.

So far as Part II of the Bill is concerned, which deals with the dumping of toxic waste at sea, undoubtedly it is something to which we give our full support. It is absolutely right that it should be enacted, and I believe this Bill sets out to achieve what is necessary in a very reasonable and adequate way. There is one question I should like to put to the noble Lord on this matter. It is one thing to control the actual dumping of waste—and a most important one—but there is always the danger (and we have seen this recently in a much-publicised case) of an accident or a collision at sea where toxic products may be on board and they may be sunk together with the vessel, or pushed overboard in the event of a collision.

Provided those toxic substances are properly packaged in approved containers, little risk, if any, occurs. But if they are improperly packaged and the containers are unsubstantial, there can be considerable risk of pollution. Is it outside the scope of this Bill to include provisions, at least so far as toxic substances emanating from this country are concerned, to ensure that the packaging is adequate to resist any normal form of corrosion from sea water, immersion in sea water, or the impact of a collision? If it is possible, will Her Majesty's Government initiate action, at least among our Common Market partners, to ensure that they implement similar provisions in order to prevent any danger of this type arising?

I turn to Part III of the Bill, which, as the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, rightly said, is the one which has caused the most interest and which is the most significant. I have a series of questions and comments on this part of the Bill. First, under the existing arrangements of the Pesticides Safety Precautions Scheme, the objectives of that scheme are very clearly stated. They are, as I am sure the noble Lord remembers, to safeguard human beings (whether as operators applying products, as food consumers or otherwise), livestock, domestic animals, beneficial insects, wildlife (i.e. non-target flora and fauna) and the environment generally (e.g. soil, air and water) against risks which could arise from the use of pesticide products". That is fairly comprehensive and a pretty good statement of the objectives. Would it not be of value to include in this Bill some general objectives, either in the exact terms of the PSPS or possibly modified and amplified in some way to suit the modern conditions we are now experiencing?

Secondly, it would strengthen the Bill considerably if it incorporated a clause which made it illegal to give advice on the use of pesticides contrary to those conditions which have already been approved. There are a growing number of advisers who visit farmers. They are very valuable people, and, in the main, very knowledgeable. But it is essential that those people should give advice in conformity with the rules which the manufacturers and the Government have laid down, rather than say to the farmer, "You are supposed to do this, but I shouldn't bother about that because if you increase the volume a little or spray a little differently you will probably get better results". Would it not be a strengthening of the Bill to make any form of advice of that kind illegal?

Thirdly, such accidents as have occurred in the use of pesticides—and, fortunately, they have been very rare over years gone by, and I hope and am sure will continue to be rare—have to a large extent occurred because farmers have decanted pesticides from the appropriate container bearing full instructions into an oil can, a Coca-Cola bottle, or something of that kind, and have then taken it home for use in their garden or for a friend or neighbour to use in their garden. It is then put in a garden shed and nobody knows what it is. This is an extremely dangerous practice, although, as I have said, it is rare for accidents to occur. Nevertheless, they can occur, and it would be a safeguard for human users at least if such practices were made illegal and the pesticide had to remain in its original container until it was all used.

Turning now to the spray equipment that is used to apply the spray solutions, we are now on the verge—and the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, has mentioned the electrostatic system of spraying—of a considerable breakthrough. It will be one of great advantage to farmers in that it will reduce the use of ingredients in a spray. This will have very great benefits for the environment, not only by reducing the use of sprays but by ensuring that a much higher proportion of the pesticide that passes through the sprayer finishes up where it is meant to be; in other words, on the plant, rather than evaporating into the atmosphere, being carried into the upper atmosphere at times, and certainly into neighbouring fields, hedges and gardens.

This development is something that must be encouraged. I should like the assurance of the Minister that there is nothing in the Bill which will in any way inhibit the use of new equipment of this kind. I suggest it might be valuable—not that it should be included in the Bill itself—that there should be very close contact indeed between those within the Ministry of Agriculture responsible for the use of pesticides and the manufacturers to ensure that the lines on which the manufacturers are working are approved and will be of benefit to the solution of the general problem of pesticides.

The Bill is to a very large extent, again as the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, pointed out, an enabling Bill. It is right that it should be. It is impossible to incorporate into the Bill all the regulations which are necessary at present and which will become necessary as time goes on. But the regulations which the Minister will in due course provide are the essence of the Bill as it affects pesticides. I hope the Minister will be able to let us know in draft form what is proposed in these regulations before the Bill actually becomes law. It would be far more valuable if we had the chance of discussing the proposed regulations as they are expected to be as soon as the Bill becomes law, rather than that we should wait to discuss them, probably far more briefly, at some later date.

As regards aerial spraying, here I would go somewhat further than the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie. From the purely farming point of view I believe it is perfectly possible, with the advent of the modern type of sprayer—very large for the big farms and small for the smaller farms—to spray adequately without having recourse to aerial spraying of any kind. I am not discussing forestry, but am speaking solely from the agricultural point of view. We on this side would be very happy to consider very seriously, hearing arguments from both sides, the complete prohibition of aerial spraying of farms. It would have the very great advantage of enabling the spray to be concentrated on those areas where it is most needed. While I feel that some of the opponents of aerial spraying grossly exaggerate their case on the damage that is done, there is no doubt whatever that there is the grave danger of drift, not only to neighbouring crops (on the whole, other farmers can look after themselves) but to gardens and allotments, where damage can be caused.

Occasionally—very occasionally; far more rarely than some people assert—a human being has been sprayed by a pesticide. That danger would be obviated; and, possibly more important, and certainly of far more widespread significance to those concerned with the general flora and fauna, such a prohibition would prevent the indiscriminate spraying of hedgerows and footpaths mentioned by the noble Lord in his speech. It would prevent the destruction of flora and fauna; of the wild flowers, butterflies and beetles; and of the birds, too, who live their innocent lives in the shelter, as they think, of the hedgerows but who, when the aeroplane zooms overhead, become just as much of a target as the noxious weeds, aphids and the rest of it that the farmer quite reasonably wishes to dispose of.

The noble Lord, Lord Belstead, mentioned exports to third world countries. I am very glad that he did. We have a responsibility in this respect, but I do not think that we should put any firm prohibition on exports. We should insist that any pesticide which is exported from this country has a full description of what it is and what its contents are; and if it contravenes the regulations of the country for which it is destined the export should be prohibited. If the pesticide does not contravene the regulations, even though we may not like it in this country, the responsibility must be on the receiving country to ensure that the pesticide conforms to its own regulations. We do not want to inhibit or make it difficult for our own manufacturers to export, but we do not want to be party to the export of noxious substances, as to the effects of which the receiving country, particularly if it is in the third world, may be entirely ignorant.

When I say that there must be full notification of the contents of these pesticides, that does not mean that the precise patented formula should be made available. It is obviously necessary for the manufacturer to be safeguarded, though not against competitors within the Community because its patent laws apply equally whether it be France, Germany, Italy or the United Kingdom. But we know that there are certain manufacturers in some third world countries which do not subscribe to any of these international conventions who, if they were able to get hold of formulae, would undoubtedly make use of them without having to spend the very considerable sums of money which have to be spent in producing effective substances.

My last point is to ask the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, to affirm that under these regulations, or any regulations likely to be promulgated, farmers will still be free to import if they so wish from other countries, provided the substances that they import are clearly designated and have conformed already, or will conform, to any regulations which we lay down in this country. There have been occasions in the past when, due to a whole variety of circumstances, very largely currency movements, it has been possible for farmers in England—I have myself benefited from it—to go to France or Belgium and buy identical pesticides at very much lower prices than can be obtained in this country. As members of the Community, farmers should still be free to do that without any hidden impediment or non-tariff barriers put in their way.

With those, I hope, not insignificant but relatively minor points, I repeat that we support the Bill, and we shall do our best to ensure its passage, perhaps with some improvements, through this House.

5.8 p.m.

Lord Stodart of Leaston

My Lords, my interest in this Bill is focused on Parts II and III. Therefore, if I may, I shall devote my few remarks to them. As regards Part II, I am bound to say that I view it (as I dare say noble Lords, and my noble friend, might appreciate) with somewhat mixed feelings because throughout 1973, 11 years ago, I was heavily involved with consultations at the Ministry of Agriculture and in answering questions in another place about the Dumping at Sea Bill. The number and range of questions with which I was confronted showed the very great interest taken in the forthcoming legislation.

That Bill was introduced into this House by my noble friend Lord Ferrers, and passed prior to the general election in February 1974. Like other measures, it fell with the ending of that Parliament. But in its case I think that the fall was really more of a stumble. Two months later it was introduced in its original form by the new Government. I remember one political correspondent of the day describing it as, the only measure which the new Government had yet seen fit to bring forward". I then suffered what for me was some embarrassment. I had to lead the official Opposition to it. I think that I can say that there is not so much understanding in the other place of one's position as there would have been here.

But these nostalgic recollections are tinged with a certain amount of sadness at the short life which that parliamentary child has enjoyed. However, I am comforted when I see that on the Second Reading debate in another place in May 1974 I described the Bill as: a most significant and highly desirable awakening of interest in what is generally called the environment". When I see that, it is all too obvious why a new Bill may now be needed. People are no longer waking up and showing an interest in the environment. They are wide awake and demanding action, and it is hard to believe that anyone can be blind to that.

As my noble friend said in his opening speech, the measures proposed in Part II of the Bill are stronger, and they are more comprehensive, than the Dumping at Sea Act. Minor examples are to be found in many of the clauses; but I suppose that the outstanding additions to the list of activities requiring licences are scuttling and incineration.

There is only one, I think quite notable, omission from the Dumping at Sea Act (which is being totally repealed), unless I have missed it or misunderstood what is in Part II before us. Section 5 of the present Act is re-written into Clause 11 of the Bill. It deals with the powers of British officers to inspect any ships, aircraft or hovercraft within the United Kingdom or inside British fishery' limits; and they can inspect British ships anywhere. But the Dumping at Sea Act contained Section 6 which I thought, and still think, is equally important. It allowed British officers to inspect the ships of states which had signed the London or Oslo conventions outside United Kingdom waters if dumping was suspected. Officers of those states were allowed to reciprocate by inspecting British ships. That followed a practice which had been accepted for many years in the fishing world with regard to the inspection of gear and nets. I should like just to ask my noble friend whether that right of reciprocal inspection is no longer to hold good when vessels deposit things in the sea outside our waters.

As far as Part III of the Bill goes, I look at it from a farmer's angle, and with some considerable horror following the way in which I have allowed the pesticide wagon to turn into a virtual express train, despite the fairly old-fashioned rotation of grain and grass which I operate. I grow 300 acres of cereals. In 1974 I spent £2 an acre on sprays: in 1979 I spent £6 an acre; this last year—and this is where the horror comes—it was £24 an acre. I am led to believe that that is a small amount compared to what some big barley barons spend; and money costs can, of course, be misleading because of inflation. But I am in no doubt at all that, persuaded as I have been to insure against this or that disease, the pints, gallons or litres of pesticide poured into my fields have increased enormously in quantity.

Apart from anything else, with the squeeze which is quite certainly coming up on cereal growers' profits, a farmer's pesticide bill is most certainly one for pruning. But leaving aside the purely economic side of things, I am glad to see the National Farmers' Union supporting the Royal Commission's call for reduction in pesticide usage to a minimum consistent with efficient food production.

The noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, told us of his first ventures with a sprayer. A little later I followed him, as most Scottish farmers indeed have always followed the Mackie family. In 1934 I used a horse to pull a sprayer. We put on 100 gallons of water to the acre, using a perfectly simple material called copper sulphate (bluestone). The corn was singed, the weeds were killed, and the gate was then shut until harvest time. That was what I call the simple life. We were killing weeds in those days. If the diseases with which we are plagued nowadays—the mildews, the septorias, the rhyncosporias—existed in those days, thank goodness we did not know about them. Certainly there was no spray drift onto neighbouring gardens. With 100 gallons an acre going very slowly behind an old horse, there was no spray then and no drift onto neighbouring gardens or onto adjoining fields, as happens nowadays. I think, if an aeroplane is used.

In two of the speeches already made there have been references to aerial spraying. I think that I am right in saying that the noble Lord. Lord Walston, said that he felt that there should be no spraying on farms at all. I think that I side with the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie. I see no need for spraying on some farms (certainly arable farms) at all nowadays. We have shorter corn and sprayers with higher booms. I very much doubt whether the damage done by tractor wheels through any crop rivals that done by spray drifting onto something that it ought not to drift onto. I think that I would encourage my noble friend to say in his regulations that the only things that can be aerial sprayed in this country in future are bracken on the hills and forestry.

This point has been made already. Clause 15 is quite crucial. Indeed, the effectiveness of the Bill is bound to be uncertain until we see the regulations. I think that the latter must be effective, but at the same time they must be practicable. Laws or regulations are much better not made if they cannot easily be applied. If I may make suggestions to my noble friend about what might be a regulation. I think that one might well be that it should be an offence to apply more of a pesticide than is advised on the label of the container. It may seem strange, after what I have said about the cost of putting on these things, that one should want to put on more than is necessary. But, with a badly infected crop, or in a season when the alarm bells are ringing about possible disease, I have known people to say, "Oh, we had better put an extra pint or so into the sprayer." I believe that this should be made an offence.

If a regulation along those lines was made, what about enforcing it? I make no bones at all. I am afraid, about saying that I think that farmers should be able to produce records of their spraying programme. My experience is that the firm with which I deal—I am sure that this applies to many others—write down on a piece of paper, in pints per acre, the pesticides that are to be put on each field. I then convert those quantities into pints for each tankful when my foreman fills the sprayers. The sprayer, of course, does much more than one acre at a time. And, really, this is no trouble. It is an essential exercise, so sophisticated are the many and various blends used nowadays.

Another point that I should like to raise with my noble friend relates to Clause 17, under which the implementation of Part III is likely to require 16 staff from MAFF and 18 from the Health and Safety Executive. That seems to me rather a small number. They will have to keep an eye, I presume, on all farms where pesticides are used, together with any premises, vehicles, etc. where they are stored. Will these inspectors have the knowledge of what is surely an immensely sophisticated subject—one that I suspect will become increasingly sophisticated—to do their job effectively? I echo therefore the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, that use must surely be made of the substantial number of people who have already much knowledge of the whole subject.

Finally, it is not so long since we had a debate in this Chamber—this point was made by the noble Lord, Lord Walston—on the higher prices for cars in the United Kingdom than in some other countries of the Community. I would say merely that it is very important that farmers should not be put at a competitive disadvantage through identical pesticides being available in Europe but not allowed here, or, if allowed, being at a very much higher price. Imports of pesticides of which the Minister approves, I am sure, should not be discouraged. There would be very quick clearance, I hope, for a farmer who wished to import.

Having made those points, I would say that my noble friend can be sure that on the principle of the Bill he has my full support.

5.24 p.m.

Lord Stanley of Alderley

My Lords, I am never 100 per cent. sure of the purpose of a Second Reading debate in your Lordships' House. However, I shall use it today to inform my noble friend on the Front Bench that, perhaps not totally to his surprise, I shall try now and during the Committee stage to put the view of the farmer and the sprayer operator. I am a little worried by some of the remarks made by my noble friend Lord Stodart. I shall take a slightly different view; perhaps because I have too many expensive children and greedy landlords around me. This is not to say that my view is contrary to the production of wholesome food and the protection of the environment. Far from it! It is in all our interests to produce wholesome food and to do so in a pleasant environment, for we—farmer, farm worker and operator—have to eat this food and live in this environment. We create part of it. At the risk of having a thunderbolt land on my head, I would say that I do not think that we look too unfit or too miserable, though maybe a little overweight.

My concern therefore is to ensure that British agriculture is not unfairly prejudiced vis-à-vis my continental competitor, and indeed, my overseas competitor. They are competitors in the production of food. I can probably live with a world price if it is a true world price, but I certainly cannot exist if one or indeed both my hands are tied behind my back by restrictive national legislation.

As mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, this is an enabling Bill. I suppose that that is why my noble friend Lord Belstead called it a continual dialogue. I understand his point. But, being a farmer, I am suspicious of the unknown. The unknown in this case is what we do if we have an irresponsible Minister or indeed an irresponsible Permanent Secretary.

I shall therefore ask my noble friend, by means of amendments, to clarify what powers the Minister will have. For instance, what advice will the Minister seek, and from whom? I have heard my noble friend mention scientists so far as Part II of the Bill is concerned. What about Part III? Who will be permitted to enter and search? Who are my noble friend's investigating and enforcement officers? What can the Minister prohibit in the way of agricultural activities, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, under Part I of the Bill? What is, in my noble friend's words, "a most serious event"? I suspect that what he considers a serious event may be different from the view that I would take. I am sure, too, that the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, would take a totally different view from mine on what constitutes a serious event. And, dare I mention it, now that the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, is laughing, is there any compensation if I am stopped from doing something?

These are important points. I would ask in company with other noble Lords who have spoken, that my noble friend produces without delay a draft of the regulations that he intends to issue. Your Lordships will remember that following pressure on your part the Government acceded to such a request on the Telecommunications Bill and produced the licence. It took a lot of effort on your Lordships' part, but you achieved it. I believe that my noble friend should do the same on this Bill.

We are fortunate in living in the comfort of the 20th century; a comfort that, to a large degree, has been brought about by modern technology, modern medicine and modern chemicals—a point made by my noble friend in his remarks about one for the crow, and so on. So we should be careful to ensure that this progress continues and that we do not stifle it with regulations and unnecessary long-term testing of products and testing of new methods of application. I could perhaps say here that farmers are sometimes ahead of research in this matter, and controlled droplet application is a case in point. I think therefore that I cross swords with the noble Lord. Lord Walston, on application rates—certainly mineral application rates.

Because of this technology, we are better fed now than ever before. We live longer. How I wish that such knowledge could have been used in Ethiopia and that our knowledge and our technology on how to produce food, which this Bill seeks to control, probably correctly, could be copied by the starving third world. It is your Lordships' job during the next few weeks to ensure that this Bill achieves a correct balance of a safe, progressive food and environment technology.

5.30 p.m.

Lord Craigton

My Lords, I give a warm welcome to Parts I and II of the Bill. I have a few constructive Committee points to make, but they are Committee points and I will not mention them on Second Reading. I have one question on Part II, and if the Minister could answer it his reply might be helpful. The question is: is there any good reason why applications for dumping licences should not be treated in the same way as planning applications, which give opportunities for objections and amendments? I do not see why they should not be treated as planning applications.

Part III worries me. It worries me as the first conservationist to speak, and not as a farmer. I am grateful to my noble friend for giving me a document—I do not know whether other noble Lords have had it—which showed in more detail than there is in the Bill the subjects to which the regulations would apply. But I am worried about the whole attitude towards Part III. The Government's duty is to ensure that Ministers have all the powers necessary to protect the land and the people. Parliament has to authorise Ministers to put such powers in the regulations, and the purpose of the Bill and any Explanatory Memorandum is to provide for the inclusion of all these essential powers in the regulations.

Some of these essential powers are not—repeat not—in the regulations. Let me go through them. As I read the Bill and the memorandum I have now received, there are no powers to put into the regulations provisions for the control of delivery devices—that is, application techniques. The noble Lord, Lord Walston, expressed the view, rather as I feel, that there should be definite mention of these in this Bill—nozzles, droplet sizes, the quantity, the direction of the spray. All these things are of vital importance, but the reference is always only to pesticides and methods and not to the devices themselves. Then you come to aerial spraying. The noble Lord, Lord Walston, would like to see it banned altogether. My noble friend Lord Stodart has a more restricted view. I believe that we should give powers in the Bill to include a complete prohibition of aerial spraying in specified areas. That will meet all points. I believe that this House and another place must put some control on aerial spraying.

Furthermore, I may be wrong, but I cannot find any assurance that records must be kept by manufacturers and users; or that equipment, as opposed to pesticides, must be tested and can be seized; or that operators should be trained. All these things should be in the Bill. The history of the last five months is an unhappy one. The outline proposals were issued on 22nd July. These virtually ignored all the points that I have mentioned and nearly all the very full recommendations in the Seventh Report of the Royal Commission. That circular caused such alarm and confusion that only 11 weeks later the Parliamentary Secretary to MAFF had to issue a second circular to clear up the "misunderstandings", as it was put. That second circular included the sentence: The Government is very conscious of the need to make allowances in the legislation"— in the legislation, mark you; not in the regulations— for the development of new application techniques". As I have said, I cannot find this in this Bill or in the recommendations.

In this case we should not accept verbal assurances about what the regulations will contain. I am grateful for the preview I was given. I hope, as my noble friend who has just spoken has said, that we shall have the draft regulations in our hands well before Committee. I believe that the Bill does not go far enough. There are, as I said, other essential provisions that must be in the Bill but are not yet in it. I shall table amendments accordingly.

5.35 p.m.

Lord Melchett

My Lords, I have to declare an interest as a farmer who uses pesticides—not for quite as long, I hasten to add, as my noble friend on the Front Bench, but nevertheless uses them. I want to concentrate my remarks on Part III of the Bill. I should like to mention just a little of the general background, which I do not think has been alluded to so far—first of all, the massive public concern there is about the use of pesticides in the countryside. That is something which I hope nobody in this House or indeed in another place will ignore. For example, a National Farmers' Union survey last year showed that there was greater public concern about pesticides used in the countryside than there was about the cutting down of trees, the removal of hedgerows and straw and stubble burning, put together. Those three items, put together, were of less concern to the general public than the use of pesticides.

Conservation interests are extremely concerned about the effect that the routine use of pesticides is having. For example, the Game Conservancy have said that on current trends the English partridge will be extinct before the end of this century. A bird which is still considered common enough to be shot will be gone completely by 1997, on current trends. That is the Game Conservancy, which is a shooting organisation, talking, and not a conservation body. That is, at least in large part, due to the increasing use of chemicals on farmland and the lack of insect food that that leaves for partridge chicks.

Of course, there is a very considerable interest from farmers, farm workers—another group that I do not think have yet been mentioned particularly—and consumers that pesticides should be used economically, safely and effectively. It is quite clear from some recent work, which shows, for example, that up to 40 per cent. of some chemicals vaporise from the field into the atmosphere, with no effects on the target, that pesticides are not being used either economically or safely—certainly not as economically and as safely as they should be. There are indications that in some cases only 1 per cent. of insecticides reaches its target, the other 99 per cent. either vaporising, being left in the soil, or affecting other organisms.

There are a lot of mutual interests, it seems to me, in ensuring that we get this system working better. I really do have to say to the Minister, along with everyone else who has spoken in the debate (except the Minister) that it is simply not good enough to come to Parliament with very vague powers—just how vague was underlined by some of the things the Minister said; for example, what he said about aerial spraying—without giving Parliament any opportunity to debate and discuss and amend—in particular amend—the detail of what the Government are proposing.

I should like to give a couple of examples of things which I think are very unclear. First of all, there is efficacy testing. We have heard something about safety testing, but there are at the moment, as I understand it, about 600 or 700 products which have been cleared under the existing efficacy testing scheme; that is to say, they do the job they are advertised to do. This is important from the farmer's point of view. On the other hand, there are about 3,000 chemicals currently cleared under the PSPS. I should be grateful if the Minister could confirm those two figures.

As I understood it, the original intention of the Government under these regulations was to give clearance to all those 3,000 PSPS products for efficacy as well as safety, without additional efficacy testing. That would be a massive reduction in controls. Two Ministry of Agriculture statements which I have seen in recent days seem to me to confuse this issue. One—the Notes on Clauses that the Minister circulated—makes clear that there will be efficacy testing on new products. The Minister, as I heard him in his opening remarks, simply talked about efficacy testing on products, without the qualification "new". It would be very helpful if the Minister could tell us exactly what is going to happen.

A number of noble Lord have spoken about aerial spraying. As far as I know, today for the first time the Minister said that the Bill will give the Government powers to control aerial spraying. I am not aware of that point having been made before, though it may have been and I may have missed it. But that surely raises a whole host of issues. What type of controls will there be on aerial spraying? Who will impose them? Who will police them? Will it be the Civil Aviation Authority, the Department of Transport, or the Ministry of Agriculture? A whole range of questions is opened up by almost a chance remark from the Minister about aerial spraying and, as far as I know, no consultation has taken place with anybody involved in the farming industry—let alone conservation interests—on that point as yet.

It seems to me—and once again I underline it—of absolute necessity to have the details of the Government's proposals before Parliament if we are to have a sensible discussion on this Bill at all. I must say that as regards aerial spraying it seems to me that there is a widespread consensus in all parts of the House that there is very little, if any, justification for aerial spraying so far as arable farming is concerned; and that would be my view. It may well be that a licensing system would be needed for particular applications for forestry purposes or for bracken control. Those seem to me to be the only two examples, and they could be mentioned explicitly on the face of the Bill, so that we all knew where we stood, and aerial spraying could otherwise be banned. That could be of great advantage to the farming industry, because there is no doubt in my mind that the great majority of complaints about spraying originate from aerial spraying. I have certainly found from personal experience in using aerial spraying that it is quite impossible, even with the greatest care in the world, to prevent something that is being discharged from an aeroplane from going on places where it is not meant to go; for example, on hedgerows, public roads and other places.

It is not at all clear to me whether the powers in the Bill provide for a number of matters, some of which the noble Lord, Lord Craigton, has mentioned. For example, do they give the Minister power to publish information on safety testing? Information is now publicly available in the United States about chemicals that we use in this country, but it is a secret in this country. It is possible to get the information in America, but it is a secret here—nobody must be allowed to know it. There is a perfectly good system in the United States which protects the commercial interests of manufacturers—and I acknowledge that that is important—but which nevertheless gives the public access to the safety testing which has been done on chemicals. I see no reason why we should not have a similar system in this country.

I should like to know from the Minister whether there are sufficient powers in the Bill to ensure that there are records kept on both the sales of chemicals and the use of chemicals. Anybody farming nowadays should, if they are farming even half properly, keep a proper record of the chemicals which they are using on their crops. It does not seem to me any hardship on farmers; indeed, it is of great advantage that all farmers should do it. It should be a statutory obligation, again on the face of the Bill.

It is important that there should be a licensing system for both operators and pesticide application systems. Again, there is an operator licensing system working well in the United States. It was recommended by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, and I was interested to see that the Agricultural Engineers' Association favour some such procedure. Again, something as major as that surely should be provided for on the face of the Bill, so that we know where we stand.

There is a need for pesticide application systems to be licensed, because there is very little point in having a tremendous amount of work going on to test the safety and efficacy of chemicals, and in laying down strict conditions as to their use, if nobody is checking to see that the machinery actually applying those chemicals is working properly. Clearly it is in the interests of the farmers as well as everyone else that the machinery should work effectively, and I see no reason why it should not be tested and licensed to ensure that that happens. It seems to me that if that were on the face of the Bill, with the objectives of such a licensing system spelt out, some of the justified concerns about controlled droplet application—something again very welcome to conservationists and farmers—would be dispelled because we would know what the Government's intentions were towards pesticide application systems.

It still seems to me that there is a major concern, so far as CDA spraying is concerned, about the testing of chemicals. Farmers Weekly made the point—and I should like the Minister to comment on this—that it will still be very difficult and costly for people who want to make their chemicals available for CDA spraying to go through the necessary testing procedures. I hope that we can have some assurance that not only the systems of application will be cleared readily, but chemicals for CDA application as well.

One of the farming papers last week suggested that if one took a cynical view of the Government's intentions, they have drafted this Bill and introduced it in this way to short-circuit parliamentary procedure. I must say that I share that cynical view. It seems to me quite wrong for the Government to have attempted on a matter as important as this to the general public, to consumers of food, to the agricultural industry and to conservationists, to come before Parliament with a Bill which tells us so little about what is actually going to happen.

The regulations which the Government intend to circulate for comment must be in existence. I cannot believe that other Government departments—the Treasury and others—would have agreed to let this Bill come before Parliament if they did not have a pretty clear idea of what the Ministry of Agriculture intended to put in those regulations. It therefore seems to me quite inexcusable for the Government not to have responded to the already widespread requests that have been made to see those draft regulations. This would not preclude further consultation with other interests, but it would allow those of us in Parliament, on many different sides, who are interested in this matter to see what the Government really intended to do.

I do not think that short-circuiting parliamentary procedure will be possible, because unless we have some detailed information from the Government about what they intend to do, the only way in which those of us with an interest in Parliament can extract that information is by putting down as amendments all those things that we think ought to be in the regulations, and then all the things that we think should not be in the regulations, just to make sure that they are not there. In my view that is guaranteeing us a very long and tedious Committee stage, and I hope that the Minister will avoid that for all our sakes.

5.46 p.m.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, like the noble Lord who has just sat down, I wish to refer in the main to Part III of the Bill—that which relates to pesticides—and like the noble Lord, I am bound to declare an interest as a farmer. I felt a minor twinge of sorrow when I saw that the Dumping at Sea Act 1974 was going to be repealed. My memory would have to be stretched a good deal more than is good for it—and evidently a good deal more in this case than that of the noble Lord, Lord Stodart—to remember exactly what it included. However, I remember, as the noble Lord said, that I was responsible for its passage in this House and I always marvelled slightly at the delightfully colloquial title which it possessed.

However, it is pesticides in which I am interested this evening. I have re-adjusted what I had anticipated saying, for reasons which may become clear. The noble Lord, Lord Melchett, said that there is public anxiety, and justified anxiety, about the effect of chemicals which are always being altered or where new ones are developed and used on the land. People wonder what we are doing to our food and to our land, and indeed to our bodies, by the application of chemicals. They fear the advance of science. There is nothing new in that. I think that we all fear it. Every generation has feared the advances of science, because people fear the unknown just because it is unknown.

But, equally, there is nothing new about chemicals in agriculture. They have been there since time immemorial. The human body is nothing if it is not a massive chemical factory—and a highly complex one. Raw material is ingested in it and attacked by a whole series of different chemicals which the body manufactures. The constituent parts of the raw materials are broken down by chemical action and reaction and the body uses the chemicals which are released for its energy and its growth. It is just the same with the animal body, and it is just the same with plant life.

So the whole of plant, animal and human life is a diverse series of chemical reactions and constant chemical change. Scientists, agriculturists and doctors have for centuries tried to research these chemical reactions—sometimes to limit them, sometimes to increase them, and sometimes to alter them for the benefit of mankind. We have much to be grateful to them for in that regard. Even those who fulminate about the advantages of natural muck in their gardens or fields are in fact fulminating only about the effects of the addition of certain chemicals—organic ones—to the soil. So there is nothing new or novel about chemicals in agriculture. There is nothing wrong with chemicals in agriculture. There is nothing wrong in adding or altering the chemicals in agriculture for the benefit of mankind, provided that there is adequate protection and safety to prevent the harmful effects which can undoubtedly occur from the addition of chemicals, in just the same way as harmful effects can occur from natural chemicals in the body or in the land if they are sometimes left unbridled.

As pesticides have grown in use there has been a constant and vigilant guard over their use; namely, the Pesticides Safety Precaution Scheme. It is true that it was a voluntary scheme, but because it was voluntary, it does not mean that it was either casual or irresponsible. Quite the reverse is true. I pay tribute to the Government and to the agricultural chemical industry who have participated in this scheme for, as we have heard, some 25 years and who have permitted the advances of knowledge to be used while protecting the countryside and the consumer. It has not always been 100 per cent. successful—nothing ever is. The advent of legislation will not make it 100 per cent. successful. New knowledge sometimes replaces and contradicts existing knowledge, and that will continue, and legislation will not stop that.

I am bound to say that I am sorry to see the voluntary scheme go, but I am glad that my noble friend explained why it has to go. It is obviously unacceptable for imported products to be used without going through a safety protection system.

From time to time, and for a whole variety of reasons which are not always good, there is pressure for the Minister to act and to ban a certain product. People hear stories about it which may not always be true; attributions are made which may not always be accurate; facts get disseminated and a bandwagon of fear—and understandable fear—builds up and the Minister of the day often finds himself subjected to very considerable pressure to ban the product.

I can understand people having those fears and not wishing to use those products. It is rather like asking a child: "Do you mind sleeping in a particular bedroom? Some people say it is haunted". Of course the child will not wish to go anywhere near that bedroom. But for a Minister to ban a product because of public or political pressure would, in my view, be quite wrong, and it would be a very slippery slope. Who knows what kind of pressure might be built up to get some other product withdrawn once it is known that a Minister, with no specialist knowledge, will submit to that kind of pressure? He must rely on the advice of his experts who are there to advise him in the light of an examination of all the known scientific facts. I hope that my right honourable friend will always rely on the Advisory Committee on the Safety of Pesticides.

In looking through this part of the Bill I wondered how it was going to be policed. My noble friend says that it will be policed by the Health and Safety Executive; but, as my noble friend Lord Stodart, said, it does not seem as though that will be very many people. I cannot see how we will effectively be able to police what 300,000 farmers are doing on their different fields with their different sprays without a very considerable increase either in manpower or in bureaucracy, and obviously both would be undesirable. But I assume from what my noble friend has said that I would be right in believing that neither the police nor the local authorities will have anything to do with these measures, but that this will be left to the Health and Safety Executive.

I should like to ask my noble friend: what will happen about what is known as BASIS? That is another of these nasty names made out of letters, but I think it stands for the British Agrochemical Supply Industry Scheme? This is also a voluntary scheme which merchants and companies operate. Is it intended that this scheme should continue to operate? If so, will it be voluntary, and if it is voluntary and if every other control is statutory, will it not lessen the importance of that particular scheme in the eyes of the retailers, and may they not discontinue their participation in it?

Over all this highly complicated field one must remember that man is human and knowledge is not finite. Errors and mistakes can and will occur. Knowledge can and does alter. Products have been produced which were thought at the time, with all the best knowledge that was available, to be safe, but which were subsequently found to be unsafe. That happens in medicine, too. That does not mean to say that the original permission for use, in the light of the knowledge which was then available, was wrong. If we were to take that view, no new product would ever be allowed to be used for fear that some future research might show it to be unsuitable. Like that, we would deny to ourselves and others the benefit of knowledge. Of course there is a risk: there always will be. But we must perpetually seek to challenge and to check on safety.

I say this with particular reference to one event with which I have recently come into contact. I know of someone whose wife felt ill and had a blood test which was found to contain nothing disturbing. It was later found that she had a tumour in the kidney. It was malignant. It was removed, mercifully in time before it had affected other parts of the body. As they were leaving the hospital the surgeon said, "Has your husband anything to do with agriculture?" She said, "Yes; he is a farmer". The surgeon said, "That's a funny thing. I have done operations on about 10 people engaged in agriculture, and they were all kidney tumours".

The lady subsequently went to a hospital in London which specialises in these things and had a blood sample taken which was sent to America, where they have a very sophisticated and infinitely more precise method of testing. Her blood was shown to contain a very high content of both DDT and Dieldrin, both of which are of course now banned from being used in agriculture in the United Kingdom.

As one who has had the privilege of responsibilities in the Ministry of Agriculture, and for pesticides in particular, and as one who found the emotional pressure group bandwagon counter-productive, I found my senses alerted by this case and I have done a little research, which I feel bound to impart to your Lordships. I should explain that my researches are minimal. They are not exhaustive; nor are they professional. But I hope that, such as they are, they are factual. As I understand it, there are pesticides now commonly found in people's blood. Babies are even born with pesticides in their blood. The body can tolerate a certain amount. The toxic effect is when the pesticides cause actual damage to the tissues; but they can also have an effect on the body's immunological system—its ability to reject the invasion of unwanted substances.

In the normal course of events the body can reject what it does not want by discharging it through the kidneys. When something else goes wrong with the body its ability to discharge the toxic substances is curtailed, and they rest in the kidneys, where they fester and create the damage. Some work is being done on this in London. There is an allergy department in the Nightingale BUPA Hospital where an interest is taken in pesticides in human beings. As its name implies, this is a BUPA hospital which is funded by the Nuffield Trust. When blood samples relating to pesticides are taken there, they have to be sent (of all places) to Dallas in the United States, where there is an environmental care unit which has produced impeccable results and which has the equipment to measure, very finely, volatile organic compounds and pesticides in the blood—not just pesticides, but all volatile compounds, even petrol fumes. When measuring very small quantities, it is necessary to be accurate. I understand that we do not have the equipment in this country. Each of these blood tests costs about £70.

In Dallas they have a substantial data bank of facts about pesticides in the blood, not only from some 3,000 patients who have been there but from people in different parts of the country. So it is possible to find out what is the norm of pesticides to be found in the blood, and to place the norm against that found in patients. They also have a large documentation of population studies.

There they have a unit which they can get almost completely sterilised by carefully filtering the air and by using instruments which do not release compounds into the air. You thereby produce an almost sterile environment. People enter this unit and, as it were, are dried out of pesticides. I think the correct medical term is that they undergo detoxification. It has been found that after about three weeks the level of pesticides in the bodies of people who have been so detoxified has dropped.

Pesticides are in fact fat soluble. They can be held in the fat of the body. I did not realise that much of the brain, oddly enough, contains fat—and mine obviously has more fat than those of most other people, so I accept that. But a report was published by this environmental care unit at Dallas last year which showed the results of an experiment where some 200 people had been detoxified of pesticides and their IQ had risen by up to 20 points. It would appear that in their cases pesticides had affected the brain.

Blood samples are the method by which pesticide toxicity in the body is measured, but the brain holds three to 10 times the concentration of pesticides shown in the blood sample. The liver holds 20 times, and body fat holds 300 times the level of concentration in the blood. In this hospital in London I was shown how some blood samples contained a normal level of pesticides, which is about one part per billion. To the layman that does not sound overtly high. But I also saw others where the concentration was high, and as high as four parts per billion, which is four times the normal. There was one blood sample which contained a high level of Dieldrin, BHC, DDT, and DDE (which is a metabolite of DDT), and of hexachlorobenzine.

There was also a patient who had been treated there for asthma, migraine and rhinitis, from which she recovered. She was so glad that she had recovered that she went to work, and with the money she earned she bought some new carpets for her house. She ended up in hospital again for six weeks, and it was discovered that the carpets were covered in Dieldrin. That is a product which has been banned in agriculture for some years, but apparently it has not been banned for industrial use.

Lord Melchett

My Lords, the noble Earl mentioned DDT and DDE. I asked a question of the Ministry of Agriculture some time ago and was told that a considerable quantity of both chemicals were in fact still in use in specialised agricultural, fruit growing, or vegetable growing areas, so they have not gone out of use completely in this country.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I certainly accept the noble Lord's correction if that is the fact, which I am sure it is. I do not wish to be in any way alarmist about this matter at all. Each noble Lord will come to his own conclusion. Mine is that we should not rush into any panic to try to ban chemical sprays. I speak as one who is a farmer and who has had some responsibility in this direction, but equally I speak as one who has been pretty surprised by what he has learned.

All advances in knowledge have their disadvantages as well as their advantages, and our job is to see that the balance of advantage exceeds that of disadvantage. Pesticides and sprays despite their drawbacks have brought immense value to mankind in their ability to enable the people of the world to be better fed. I doubt, as my noble friend Lord Stanley said, whether there are many people in Ethiopia who would decry pesticides just now. Had it not been for pesticides there would be many others in the world suffering from the misery and indignity which these unfortunate people have been obliged to suffer, and which are the cause of such international distress.

I believe that the problem is one of knowledge and research. It is as unrealistic to think that we can live without the advantages and the disadvantages of pesticides as it is to think that we can live without the advantages and the disadvantages of the motor car or the computer. They are part of our civilisation, whether we like it or not. What we have to do is to determine what is acceptable, and to curb the excesses.

More research has to be done, and more ought to be done in this country. It so happens that the hospital to which I referred is opening its own environmental care unit some time next spring, so work is going on but I think not fast enough. In the debate yesterday we heard about the endless monetary requirements to finance essential research. The demands are huge and endless, and I would not wish to say which should have priority. But I think that we should do more in this field.

In welcoming this Bill I would, if I might, say to my noble friend with the greatest of respect and humility, "Don't be satisfied with our present knowledge. Try to get more research done on these products, and don't be swayed by anything other than facts".

6.6 p.m.

Lord Monk Bretton

My Lords, I want to speak on Part III of the Bill and also from an interest in farming, so I shall endeavour to be brief. I trust that your Lordships will see that, like most good farmers should, I identify myself very much with the interests of my customer, the consumer. I also have an interest, which is typical among farmers, in field sports. I welcome this Bill in principle. How near the frontiers of knowledge we are with this subject has been clearly stated by my noble friend Lord Ferrers. It is because of this that it is important to emphasise that the state has an important role to play in this area because of the need for disinterested advice. This is so for anyone however strongly they believe in restricting the activities of the state.

The Bill is of course a control mechanism. What is important and what will make it work is the research behind it all, which dictates what is eventually done and is of greater importance. There is no use in a control apparatus without the research. A typical farmers' point of view on all this is first that his motivation is certainly not to maximise the sales of agrochemicals in this country. He is extremely interested in the price of those chemicals. In passing, in that regard, might I say that aerial spraying is probably one of the most expensive ways of application, and to that extent I believe controls the situation pretty much.

The farmer has a strong desire that innovative application techniques should not be stifled. He has a conviction borne of wresting a living from the environmental balance as it exists, that minimal interference with the balance is the wisest course for fear of side effects. Leading from all this he has a strong desire for impartial research information.

The Bill inevitably is not explicit about the last of these matters. I wonder whether an expansion in the research input in this area is envisaged. I wonder how satisfied my noble friend is with the present position, and whether he feels that the funding of research into pesticides is as well-organised and as well-balanced as it should be. I have certain doubts. I may say that some of those doubts come from my interest in the Game Conservancy. I find it pretty remarkable that the sporting interests seem to have been left virtually alone to two areas of research that have been carried out by the Game Conservancy—the Partridge Survival Project and the Cereals and Game Bird Research Project. Both of these have wider implications than might appear. They involve studies into insect life, the effects of sprays thereon, on residues, and so forth. Therefore, even on the interests of the consumer.

I understand that there is no Government funding of this aspect. I suspect also that it may be the only true independent ecological research into sprays on farmland in the United Kingdom, and of course 80 per cent. of our island is farmland. I understand the Natural Environment Research Council do not work on farmland, merely on natural habitats. I cannot help feeling that more work may well be needed into the balance between farming and wildlife and can only be done in a true farming situation.

Meanwhile, the consumer, for instance, wants his vegetables and he wants them perfect. How many times may it be necessary to spray with insecticides in order to achieve this and in order to satisfy the pressures from the supermarkets? This is a matter which puts the farmer in a position of some difficulty, in a dilemma, and it is the reason why he is anxious for guidance which is as clear as he can get. I hope that my noble friend will be able to comment on this matter.

May I finally just say a word about the charging clause, which is Clause 16. The Bill does not specify who precisely will pay what, but I feel that there is an inference that the cost of much of this will be put on the product, and of course when one has heard what my noble friend Lord Ferrers has said, there could be a massive research expense which would have the most devastating effect upon prices of the product if it was entirely to be financed from there.

I hope very much that my noble friend the Minister will remember that the primary producer who buys the product with this price addition cannot easily pass on such costs to the consumer; and the reason that he cannot do that is simply endemic in the nature of agricultural marketing. It is because of this that he fears he will be competing first against other countries who do less, or nothing about these issues or else countries where something is done, but it is done by the taxpayer and not put onto the price of the product. It is quite likely that a number of countries may take this view, and I am anxious that the British producer should not be put at a disadvantage, certainly within the European Community. I believe he has proved responsible within the limits he has been set, that he would prefer more help and definitely has a feeling of continuing concern.

6.15 p.m.

Lord Auckland

My Lords, I must be one of the very few Members of your Lordships' House taking part in this debate who is not a farmer. My only experience of farming was during the school holidays during the war, when, at my grandparents' and mother's home in Perthshire, I helped with the harvest. But I speak first with a completely non-financial interest: as an honorary vice-president of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, and also as a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Chemical Industries Group, though I am not a chemist by profession. I happen to work in the insurance industry, which is not exactly uninterested in certain aspects of this Bill, particularly from the point of view of product liability.

Before turning to Part III I should like to say a few words about Part II, and particularly about Clause 6. The idea of having licences for incineration on vessels at sea is certainly a very novel and original one, and a very welcome one. Anybody who has had experience of living on the coast—and my wife comes from a coastal town in East Sussex—knows what pollution on the beaches can mean as a result of ships, very often large ships, discharging their oil, or whatever it may be, at sea. What I am not sure about is what is meant by "incineration" in this respect, and whether in fact what is incinerated is then going to be discharged; because if this is so, the pollution could be diabolical. Again, in the case of any Bill of this kind there are the problems of enforcement, of whether one has enough people of experience to enforce it; because it is surely the case that enforcing something at sea is often very much more difficult than enforcing it on land.

Turning very briefly to Part III of the Bill, I think it is now accepted by almost everyone that the days of the environmental lobby versus the scientific lobby—because this is all part of the development of science—must surely be numbered. We are, as has been said before, all lovers of our environment, and in this country, with tourism on the increase, the need to preserve our environment is extremely necessary. On the other hand, we must grow more of our own food, and with the development of science and scientific products it is surely the case that the wise use of pesticides and other chemical products does ensure that our crops, our food and our vegetables last longer. With the ever-increasing amount of deep freezing and other ways of preserving food, it is surely sense that we should use these sprays and other scientific measures sensibly.

Obviously one of the most important aspects of the Bill will be enforcement, particularly of safety standards. As has been mentioned, there has been a veto for some years on the use of substances such as Aldrin and Dieldrin. That surely is to everyone's advantage.

I should like to ask my noble friend the Minister a question about these sprays. How much importation is there of them? Mention has been made of third world countries, but we have a certain amount of trade with East European countries. Are the Government satisfied that sprays and other chemicals which are imported from these countries and are relevant to this Bill meet the regulations on safety standards and labelling? I believe this is important. I am sure my noble friend the Minister would be doing your Lordships a service if he could give some information—I have not given him notice of this question and obviously cannot expect an answer now—on how much importation there is into this country of these sprays and other chemicals from countries which tend to dump, particularly East European countries.

Under what criteria are imports to be prohibited? Who will be doing the testing of these substances? Under Clauses 15 and 17 a great deal of work will devolve on the inspectors who are to test the products, as I read the Bill. Any legislation of this kind is bound to have its difficulties. One of the main difficulties is enforcement. Incidentally, there is no schedule of substances which will be tested and possibly banned as a result of the Bill. This is surely unusual. I know that in previous legislation there have been schedules of substances concerned, and I should have thought that in a Bill of this kind the relevant substances should be named.

Having said that, I think the Bill recognises the need for these substances. It is ludicrous to suggest that there can be a complete ban on chemical sprays or other substances for agriculture or for any other purpose. In Committee it will be necessary to consider carefully who will operate the Bill to give it the effectiveness which is sought.

6.23 p.m.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, in coming to the end of this debate it is remarkable that all round the House there is a great deal of agreement that the Bill is very necessary, and there is even agreement between the arch-conservationists and the arch-farmers on certain points, which is useful. I mention briefly the first two parts of the Bill which, although not exciting, are of great interest. The third part is extremely important. The first part of the Bill is a necessary measure to deal with disaster. But I hope that prevention is being considered at the same time. My noble friend said in his speech that containers at sea should be of a standard which can withstand disaster. Many things need considering in connection with prevention of disaster. For example, if these containers which came off the French ship had been bugged with some electronic device they would have been much more easily found. I believe that prevention goes along with the first part of the Bill.

Concerning the second part, the sea has been used as a dump for so long that only now are we beginning to realise that its resources as a dump are finite and that something more needs to be done. The main interest has been in the pesticide section. We all know that it covers herbicides, fungicides and all the other uses to which chemicals are put in agriculture. The concern expressed by the conservationists is right and proper because I know it is felt by farmers as well. As the noble Lord, Lord Stodart of Leaston, said, it is not only the money that worries us, it is the fact that we intend to get on the back of the tiger. One needs to put more and more chemicals on to better and more sophisticated crops to ensure that the yields keep rising and that the diseases, which seem to proliferate along with the chemicals, are kept down. I must say that I think the Friends of the Earth is a lovely name but it tends to place the farmers in the category of the enemies of the earth which is entirely and completely untrue. We need to look at what has happened, to consider the experience that we have gained and to build on that. There is no doubt that we have gained a tremendous amount of experience since the early days of the really effective sprays.

The question of training has been mentioned—incidentally, there are some pests and activities which make it difficult to speak. However, we cannot spray and I shall do my best to continue. Training in the early stages was extremely elementary. I remember when I was pestering my grieve about one of our operators he said to me, "I have told him"—I will not put it into Scots, but keep it in English for the benefit of your Lordships—"that when clearing a nozzle he should not suck, he should blow". This was the level of understanding and it resulted at that time in several deaths. In our own area a good man, a sprayer operator for a contractor, drank water out of his storage tank and died as a result. But there has not been a fatal accident to an operator for over 10 years and that shows that we are beginning to appreciate what goes on.

The Government should encourage and order as soon as practical that operators should attend training courses and receive a certificate. That is not possible to achieve quickly, but practices on our farms (certainly this is the case on mine) are not always what they should be. I find that it is extraordinarily difficult to get men to wear the protective clothing which I find lying about in strange places. Perhaps that is because I personally do not pay enough attention to it.

Records are very important. If we are putting anything on a field, it is for our own benefit as farmers to build up a picture over the years of what has gone on there. I daresay that in future years we shall be able to store the knowledge very cheaply on a computer and it will be available at any time if it is needed in case of disaster or simply as a means of using the knowledge to improve the spraying and effectiveness of the sprayers. I must say that I think that the Bill could follow the Royal Commission on the Environment very much more closely than it has. I have looked at their recommendations and they appear to me to be very sensible, and as we go on I daresay that a great many of them will appear in this House in the form of amendments. It is also very necessary that we get some form of evenness in EEC legislation. Obviously, material imported into this country must be subject to the same tests as anything made in this country; but surely an even standard in the EEC would be very important.

It was very interesting that, on aerial spraying (which without doubt is one of the great causes of annoyance to the non-farming population) the view is nearly unanimous in this House despite the expense and the difficulty. People who live next to fields are most unreasonable about having their gardens sprayed and their children covered, and they object strongly. Operators are afraid of being sued so that it can be very difficult to find an aerial contractor to spray. I can think of few cases. Maybe if we had an incredibly wet period and the land was completely waterlogged it might be useful: but I think that that is unlikely.

The other section of this problem which is not mentioned much in the Bill as we have it concerns the third world. I know that it may be for the benefit of the inhabitants of a third-world country to use a spray which is banned in this country—banned here because we are rich enough to ban it. But I understand, for example, that DDT is only one-sixth of the price of the more sophisticated and less harmful sprays. It might well be that some third-world country would think that the saving of a crop from a tropical pest was worth the risk. That is up to them. But we should label properly everything that goes out of this country in the language of the country to which it is going. Some of the big firms such as Shell and ICI are doing a lot of work in training in third-world countries. They are producing very interesting labels which show clearly to people who cannot read what is dangerous and what is not. This is something to be greatly encouraged.

However, we really cannot export dangerous chemicals to third-world countries which people do not know how to use and excuse that by saying that others will do so if we do not. It is rather like the old argument in the cartoon—which I always admired—of the two executioners, torturers, with their black masks, their execution axes, and so on, talking to each other at an idle moment. One of them is saying to the other. "The way I see it, if we don't do it, someone else will!" I do not think that that is a good policy for a highly moral government trying to help the third world.

Everyone I think has welcomed the Bill. In this House I have frequently spoken of the necessity for statutory regulation of chemicals. The voluntary scheme has worked extremely well but there comes a time when you must have statutory schemes. One of the reasons for that is that the scheme is breaking down over the imports of very curious chemicals from Ireland, from the continent and elsewhere. I think that I would echo the criticism of the Bill (which is very much an enabling Bill) that we have not enough information of how the Government intend to proceed. I understand that it is marvellous for the civil servants of any department to put through an order; because if you put something good in it, you can slip into it also something distasteful, and the House would not turn it down because by doing so it would turn down the whole order. This is a very convenient method but it is not quite good enough. I would not dream of accusing the Minister (of whose uprightness and integrity we all know) of resorting to such a device. However, there is a danger that some less scrupulous noble Lord, who may be a Minister, might descend to that sort of regulation.

I do not want to detain the House. We are anxious to hear what the Minister has to say. But I want to echo the comment made by my noble friend Lord Walston that the object of the Bill, especially an enabling Bill, should be clearly stated in the Preamble to the Bill. That would certainly give guidance in the future and could be of great help to people both in and out of the Ministry and in and out of Parliament. This Bill could do a great deal of good but I think that, if it is going to do good, we shall need more information and the Government certainly will have to look to accepting a number of amendments put from all sides of the House.

6.37 p.m.

Baroness Nicol

My Lords, I join with almost everyone who has spoken so far in welcoming the Bill; but it must be a qualified welcome because, as again almost everyone has said, we have not seen the regulations and have no idea at all of what is going to be in them. I shall return to that in a moment. First, I want to deal with one important omission from the Bill. That refers to the public right of access to information. This was touched on briefly, I think, by my noble friend Lord Melchett, but not in great detail by anyone else. The Royal Commission on Environmental Protection, in its Seventh Report in 1979, recommended a review of confidentiality arrangements, and said: we have received evidence that those concerned with studying the effects of pesticides on a variety of living organisms may be hindered in their scientific work by this confidentiality being carried to unnecessary lengths". In the Tenth Report, which came out this year, they said: unnecessary secrecy hindered independent evaluation of data which could be of benefit to the environment in bringing to light risks which had previously been undervalued or even overlooked. Knowledge that its activities may come under scrutiny acts as a vital discipline for the pollution control authority; it will also profit technically and scientifically from an open, informed peer-review of its work and will command much greater public confidence". I commend both those comments in the reports to the Minister, and I hope that the Government will take them up. If information is available for responsible research, records of sales volumes and active ingredients would help studies of effects of pesticides on wild life. There is no apparent reason why information about toxicity of wastes dumped at sea should not be available for public scrutiny. Will the register described in Schedule 4 contain this information? Will the reasons for revoking or refusing a licence be made available? What are the guidelines for issuing a licence? All these things, my Lords, are very important information if we are to assess the effect of what the Government are trying to do. If there are no guidelines for issuing a licence, does the Minister not think that this is a very unwise power for him to have? We are lagging behind other countries, notably the US, in clinging to unnecessary secrecy; and in many cases, my noble friend Lord Melchett said, the information that we are guarding can be obtained from overseas sources by a simple telephone call.

So, my Lords, we come to Part II, dealing with dumping at sea. Apart from a small operation by the Republic of Ireland, the United Kingdom is the only Oslo Convention state which now dumps sewage sludge at sea. It is also the second largest source of industrial waste liquids and sludges, dumping some 300,000 tonnes per year. The quantity of metals dumped in the North Sea via the United Kingdom's industrial wastes and sewage sludge is by far the highest of any North Sea state. The trends in dumping statistics show that the amount of sewage sludge deposited in the sea by the United Kingdom has been increasing steadily since the early 1970s, though the quantities of other wastes have declined.

With several of the North Sea states, notably West Germany and the Netherlands, set to reduce and possibly even to eliminate their existing dumping operations by the end of the 1980s, the United Kingdom will be still more exposed than it is at present to criticism that it is using the North Sea as a dustbin when other states have been prepared to make the necessary investments in research and technology, enabling them to phase out sea-dumping altogether. So legislation is welcome, if it is a milestone on this particular path.

I have one detailed question, and I apologise for this but I think it might be worth asking it now in order perhaps to save parliamentary time later. Clause 5 appears to exclude pollutant discharges from shore activities where the pollution is a by-product. Clause 5(a)(iii) refers to, from a structure on land constructed or adapted wholly or mainly for the purpose of depositing solids in the sea". Does this mean that if the solids are a by-product, there will be no need for a licence? I think the House would wish to be satisfied that that will be covered; or is the Minister satisfied that existing legislation already covers that point?

I now turn to Part III, which is the one that has attracted most attention this evening. Wider powers to control the use and import of pesticides are, of course, welcome, but we have a duty, as several noble Lords have said, to control exports. The Minister mentioned this very briefly at the beginning, and I was not clear from his remarks whether or not he was saying that there would be some responsibility taken in regard to exports. Perhaps he will clarify that when he speaks again. It may be argued—and has been, I think, by one noble Lord—that it is the duty of the importing government to take care; but in many countries in the third world the necessary expertise is not available, and we should take the responsibility. Evidence exists of deaths caused in under-developed countries by the availability of pesticides no longer considered safe for use here. It is our duty to protect these possible victims by at least adopting the OECD guiding principles on prior information to importing countries.

There is widespread concern about the excessive use of pesticides in the United Kingdom, and I stress "excessive use" because I think it has been notable this evening that not a single speaker has said that we should cease the use of pesticides altogether. We all recognise the valuable role that they play in farming, and I think it would be most unwise, and impossible, to try now to do without them. But we want to avoid waste, because it is the waste product of insecticides which is causing the difficulty.

I return once more to the Royal Commission's Seventh Report. They recommended that further research on the underlying factors in the incidence of pests and diseases should be carried out and that there should be a commitment to the concept of integrated control. We have heard no more about this from the Government, as I understand it. We are concerned with further research not simply into types of pesticide, but also into the underlying causes and into biological control of some of the pests and diseases which are now being covered simply by pesticides.

The need for careful control of all spraying methods to avoid wastage has been mentioned again and again this evening. The careful and intelligent farmers, of whom I am sure there are many in this House, can be relied upon probably to maximise the efficiency of their applications but, because of the less careful, there should be mandatory control of the type of equipment used, constant Ministerial encouragement for the production of better methods and machinery, and the imposition of time limits on the use of obsolete equipment. This is not a new concept: it has been used in other aspects of farming where the use of certain machinery was thought to be inadvisable and a time limit was set on its use. There is no reason why this could not be done with obsolete spraying methods as well.

We welcome the forward-looking submission from the NFU. It is quite unusual for the NFU to be quoted from these Benches, and it gives me great pleasure to quote from their submission as follows: The NFU supports the Government's declared intention of ensuring the safe and efficient use of pesticides as these chemicals are essential to the efficiency of the agricultural and horticultural industry. Nonetheless we would concur with the objective recommended by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution of reducing pesticide usage to a minimum consistent with efficient food production". They go on to say: We … believe it would assist all concerned for the Government to publish a draft of the regulations they are contemplating making under the Bill as soon as possible so as to facilitate the debate on the primary legislation itself". They reiterate this point at the end of their submission, and, like my noble friend Lord Melchett, I cannot stress too strongly that the production of the draft regulations at this stage might well save a lot of unnecessary amendments and argument during the later stages of the Bill. So we heartily support the NFU's request and we hope that the Minister in his reply will be able to promise us that something will be forthcoming. As my noble friend Lord Melchett said, the department must by now have some ideas of the content of the regulations; otherwise this Bill would probably not have arrived at this time.

We are concerned that despite the environmental impact of the subjects covered by this Bill, there is no requirement for the involvement of the Department of the Environment at any stage. My noble friend Lord John-Mackie mentioned this. On these Benches we have recognised the indivisible nature of the subject and the need for the involvement of the two departments by the presence on the Front Bench of both my noble friend and myself. We urge the Government to see the logic of this approach and to arrange close liaison between departments on all the matters covered by this Bill. We have given an indication of what we see are shortcomings and we hope that some, at least, will be met before the next stage. But having said that, we welcome the new controls and hope that they will be fully used.

6.47 p.m.

Lord Belstead

My Lords. I have listened with great interest to what has been said today on this Bill, and not least to the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, at the end of the debate which, if I may say so, I think made a most interesting balance and mixture from the Oppostion Front Bench in the comments made on the Bill today. I do assure your Lordships that the Government will reflect very carefully on all that has been said before we reach the next stage.

If I may make a comment which applies to all three parts of the Bill, the Government most certainly believe setting as high a standard of environmental protection as can be achieved. The right approach, in our view, is to try to identify the major issues of concern, assess the priorities and then introduce legislation to deal with those priorities. I think that my noble friend Lord Ferrers was absolutely right when in his speech he said in essence that we have to decide where the balance of advantage lies in taking action, particularly on pesticides.

The noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, suggested, in talking about Part I of the Bill, that local authorities really ought to be given the powers which are being taken in that Part. I think the difficulty is that, while local authorities do indeed have wide powers concerning the safety of food, they are not emergency procedures. Indeed, they could not be brought into operation nearly as rapidly as would be possible under this Bill. It is really on that point that the decision was taken that it would not be so suitable to go for local authority powers.

I wonder whether I might go on and just illustrate very briefly how the powers in Part I might actually operate so far as England is concerned. I say that only because that is the area of responsibility of the department in which I work. As soon as the Ministry of Agriculture were to hear of a serious incident which could have contaminated food, we would despatch investigation officers to the scene.

My noble friend Lord Stanley asked me what would be the jobs of the investigating officers and enforcement officers. The investigating officers would go off to find out what was the trouble. They would be specialists from the Ministry's regional organisation and from its Food Science Division. They would take samples from affected crops or foods and, if they judged that it was necessary, they would advise that an emergency order ought to be made. My right honourable friend would then take action selecting appropriate prohibitions from Schedule I. The order would come into effect immediately and the enforcement officers would then have the powers to enforce the prohibitions and directions introduced.

The noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, was concerned about the possible duration of an emergency and he gave as an example what might happen during the long Summer Recess period. As time went on it might be possible to lift the restrictions imposed at the start of the emergency by using the power in Clause 2(1), which allows Ministers to consent to anything prohibited in an emergency order. But it might be more appropriate to amend or revoke the order eventually. That immediate statutory procedure would replace arrangements which are, at the moment, only voluntary' and I really think that they would be a valuable step in protecting the community.

The noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, asked me how the different Ministers would act under Part I. It is true that more than one Minister could make an order, but we would expect that it would be signed by the Minister in whose territory the area to be designated lay. If the area included parts of two of the constituent countries of Great Britain, or if it was an area of sea, we expect that the order would be made by the Minister within whose territory the incident occurred or whose department first learned of it. For constitutional reasons, separate orders would be made for Northern Ireland by the Department of Agriculture, and there would certainly be administrative arrangements drawn up to ensure that there was full consultation between departments with responsibility for the safety of food.

My noble friend Lord Stanley asked: why is there no provision for compensation in Part I? The Bill does not make this provision for a very simple reason. This Part is designed to protect the public from the polluter. The polluter pays and, if necessary, could be taken to law. In Part I, the Government are simply seeking power to carry out the protective measures that, in all probability, all responsible members of the public would agree ought to be carried out voluntarily. I say this bearing in mind that the emergencies in Part I can be designated only if they are creating a hazard to health and to food and are occurring because of a release of substances. I hope that I made it clear in my opening speech that we trust that these occasions would be very rare indeed.

If I may move to Part II, this improves our protection of the seas around our shores by extending the areas controlled in the present legislation and by taking a number of new powers. For instance, it is important to have full powers to control marine incineration since, although the United Kingdom is not heavily dependent on this practice, we must certainly not lag behind the rest of Europe in imposing controls. Also, Clause 8 give us discretion to examine applications for licences from all possible angles, in order to reach a comprehensive judgment in each case.

It is really quite an important tightening up of the powers to make sure that dumping takes place only when dumping ought to take place.

If I may try to answer some of your Lordships' questions on this part, the noble Lord, Lord Walston, asked whether Part II could be used to regulate the packaging of toxic substances. I am advised that that would not be possible as the Bill is drawn for the first time, because Part II deals with deliberate deposit only in the sea. The noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, was, it is fair to say—if I may take just a general point which she made—critical of the United Kingdom's dumping. But the noble Baroness will forgive me if I say that I do not think she took enough account of the very small percentage of pollution which is created by dumping, compared to inputs from rivers and indeed from discharges from land, although in saying that I am in no way complacent about what we have to do over dumping. It is precisely for that reason that the Government are introducing Part II of the Bill.

My noble friend Lord Craigton asked whether we could treat applications for dumping licences like town and country planning applications and give an opportunity for objections. The fact of the matter is that this Bill does not change the position in the Dumping at Sea Act. That Act does not require that applications be published, nor does it prevent it. But the criterion is that licences should be granted only when it is safe to do so. That is an answer that I must give to the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, who asked: what is the guideline? The guideline is safety when looking at a dumping application. It is not entirely clear to me what advantage would be gained by making dumping applications akin to town and country planning applications.

My noble friend Lord Stodart asked whether the provisions in the Dumping at Sea Act on foreign enforcement officers have been deleted. The answer to my noble friend is yes, they have. The powers in Section 6 of the 1974 Act for authorisation of foreign enforcement officers were never actually used. It therefore seemed prudent not to re-enact them, but we have tried to bring in new powers when necessary. I would just draw my noble friend's attention to the remedial action in Clause 10, which also enables us to recover the costs of an action against a person convicted of an offence under this clause, which I believe will give us the sort of powers that my noble friend believed were right.

My noble friend Lord Auckland asked me about the nature of incineration. This is an operation which takes place on specially constructed or adapted incineration vessels, of which there are only a handful in the whole world. Those in Europe operate from the Netherlands and all incineration takes place at a single internationally agreed site in the middle of the North Sea within the Dutch zone. The control of incineration is particularly strict and enforcement is facilitated by the use of automatic data recorders, black-box recorders, which record all the operational details. Like my noble friend, I asked only a little while ago what incineration is all about and the answer is that it is to dispose of wastes which are in liquid form. The most obvious ones are organo-chlorines, and apparently they can be incinerated very much more safely at sea than on land. The noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, asked me about the discharge of waste solids. Basically, of course, this Bill deals with deposits from ships and pipeline discharges are dealt with under the Control of Pollution Act 1974.

If I may finally come to Part III, that seeks to regulate the supply and use of all pesticides which, if I may say so to the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, includes rat poison, because Clause 15(7) and (8) make that clear; and not only rat poison, but also agricultural chemicals and those employed in public hygiene, food storage and wood preservation. Under the voluntary scheme, the PSPS, the safety picture has been a steadily improving one, despite an increase in the use of pesticides. For instance, both accidents and residue levels have been decreasing. None the less, the measures in Part III constitute an important step forward in environmental control. Although I know that different points of view have been put forward in the debate, as I knew there would be, the one thing on which I think we are all agreed is that it is necessary all the time in this area of agriculture to try to keep pushing forward and reduce the level of danger to people, to animals and to wildlife generally.

In this Bill we would have for the first time statutory power to screen all pesticides for safety and efficacy before they are marketed or used in the United Kingdom. For the first time we would have statutory control over the supply and use of pesticides. The important point that the noble Lord, Lord Walston, raised about preventing people from decanting pesticides from their proper containers could be dealt with under those controls.

This is enabling legislation. Perhaps your Lordships will forgive me if I say that I do not think it is very unusual—in fact, it is perfectly usual—to say that the regulations have to follow. The reason is that in this case there is a great difference between the enabling legislation and the regulations. In Part III of the Bill we are looking at it from a long-term point of view. We are trying to provide in principle for all future eventualities.

Secondly, the wording of the regulations will need to strike a fine balance in certain areas between freedom and an element of compulsion. Therefore, the Government must consult in detail again on the regulations, because they have already consulted with the industry—and widely- upon the bringing in of the Bill. In order to do so, first we have to have decisions from your Lordships' House and from another place on the principles from which the regulations are to be derived. However, I recognise the force of your Lordships' arguments today about the interest of the House in the second stage, and I give an undertaking in this debate that I shall do everything I can to put forward point by point the Government's view of the nature of the intended regulations as our debate on the Bill proceeds.

The noble Lord, Lord Melchett, was very critical of this particular matter. I would just say to him that in essence the intention of the Government in bringing in regulations under Clause 15 is that what is at present voluntary in regulating the supply and use of pesticides should become statutory, with two important additions. Efficacy testing will be required and use will be controlled. The safety tests required under the PSPS, the need to satisfy the Advisory Committee on Pesticides, the conditions of storage, the training of advisers under BASIS and the methods of application on the label are all familiar and are generally complied with, but in future there will be stronger rules to ensure that those conditions are in fact complied with.

Lord Melchett

My Lords, the noble Lord mentioned efficacy testing but did not reply to my specific question about whether he could reconcile the two statements issued by his ministry: first, that efficacy testing would be applied to all products, and, secondly, that efficacy testing would be applied to all new products.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, patience! I am coming to that point. If the noble Lord will forgive me, the answer to that question is embedded beneath one or two pieces of paper. To deal first with another point, concern has been expressed in agricultural quarters that the regulations might impede low-priced imports from the continent. This point was raised by the noble Lord. Lord Walston, my noble friend Lord Stodart of Leaston, and by other noble Lords. It is very important that I should place on record that we would not wish to deny access to cheap, safe and efficient pesticides. Nor, indeed, would the European Commission allow us to do so. As an earnest of our good intentions we propose to introduce administratively on 1st January of next year a rapid clearance system free of any fees for imported pesticides provided that they are identical to products already cleared for use here. I am confident that a system introduced under regulations could, because of its simplicity, be charged at a very low level in the future.

My noble friend Lord Stanley of Alderley asked me about advice given to the Government. I can confirm that we shall continue to rely on the expert advice of the independent Advisory Committee on Pesticides. I was grateful to my noble friend Lord Ferrers who said that this is absolutely right. However, we recognise that the work of the ACP has not in the past been so well publicised as it deserved. We plan to remedy that. We have already asked the ACP to publish an annual report of its activities, as the Royal Commission recommended, and the first annual report will cover the ACP's work in 1984.

It is fair to say that the Government have two main objectives in this part of the Bill. The first is to ensure safety of pesticides and control of their use. I want to emphasise again that the powers under the Bill would enable the Government to control fully such matters as aerial spraying, labelling, containers, storage, disposal and the reconsideration of existing clearances, and so on. But there is a second objective: to maintain efficiency and to avoid stifling new developments. I would give to those noble Lords who raised this point—those noble Lords included the noble Lord. Lord Walston and the noble Lord. Lord Craigton, among others—the assurance that we shall ensure that, subject to the agreement of both Houses, novel application techniques, such as controlled droplet application, can be used where appropriate and that minor crop growers continue to have access to the products they need. We are absolutely determined to stand by this statement of principle.

Let me say a word about confidentiality, which is a point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol. There is legitimate concern at the use which government make of the information which is submitted to them by particular manufacturers. Of course I understand that concern. By laying conditions in the regulations we can be more responsive to changing standards in this area, and we shall certainly bear in mind the presumption in favour of openness in environmental matters. In the Government's view, a distinction needs to be made between the release of data for the purpose of hazard assessment by the general public—a perfectly understandable wish—and the release of test results in such a manner that a rival manufacturer can use them to obtain approval for an identical product. In the latter case we have to recognise the very substantial investment and testing needed to obtain approval for a new product.

To answer one or two other specific questions on Part III of the Bill, a whole array of questions asked, in essence, whether or not a series of operations would be allowed under the regulations. If for the sake of time I may pick out only the question upon which the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, pressed me particularly a few moments ago—namely, efficacy testing of all products or only of new products—our intention is to cover all products. However, it is not practicable to cover immediately all existing cleared pesticides. There will have to be a transitional period. Therefore, all new applications will be screened for efficacy but all existing products will be screened as their clearances are reviewed.

My noble friend Lord Craigton and other noble Lords made the point that it is important to keep records. Powers contained in the Bill would enable Ministers to require that by regulation details of records shall be kept. This is one of the many matters which will need to be discussed with the industry. However, I foresee that it will certainly be discussed in your Lordships' House before we get that far.

My noble friend Lord Monk Bretton made a particular point about the application of pesticides to vegetables. I would say to my noble friend that product labels already tell users how often and how close to harvesting they may apply a pesticide. ADAS advisers assist farmers, within the safety limits set out on labels, to apply the pesticide at the time it will be most effective. This is the way in which we would wish to proceed.

I was asked by several noble Lords about how this is going to be policed and generally organised. I would make the point that when I said at the beginning of the debate that there would be 18 on the Health and Safety Executive staff I meant that they would be in addition to the scientists and agricultural inspectors who are already on the HSE staff. The 16 in the ministry whom I also mentioned in my speech will be additional to the scientists who already operate the PSPS, the ACAS and the wildlife incident investigation scheme.

My noble friend Lord Ferrers asked me about the future of the BASIS scheme. Standards of safety in the storage and distribution of pesticides will certainly not be lower under this Bill than they are now. All this is thanks to the work done by the BASIS organisation, as my noble friend is very well aware. I am firmly of the view that it will be in the interests of the trade and of the public if BASIS continues to exist in the maintenance of standards set out in the legislation.

If my noble friend will forgive me, I will not follow him down the interesting and very serious road he explored in his speech so far as levels of pesticides in people's bodies are concerned, except to say that over the past 20 years or so there has been a very marked drop so far as DDT and Dieldrin are concerned. Indeed, DDT and Endrin were withdrawn from 1st October of this year. I hesitate even to have said that, because it makes it sound as though I am satisfied with that situation. I take my noble friend's point that we should never be satisfied. I am very glad that he made the speech that he did this evening.

I have two more points, if there is time. The noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, and the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, talked about the need to be careful with our exports to other countries. The noble Lord, Lord Walston, also mentioned this matter. The noble Lord, Lord Mackie, asked what I meant when I referred to exports at the beginning of this debate. Decisions on what pesticides are needed and under what conditions they should be used must rest, and rightly do rest, with national governments. Nor can we always judge what is appropriate under tropical and sub-tropical conditions. It should be remembered that lack of a pesticide in such areas might mean not reduced productivity but, as the noble Lord said, the loss of an entire crop or a disease epidemic.

Nevertheless, the British Government wholeheartedly support international initiatives such as by FAO and UNO on improved information exchange. Hence the provision that is in the Bill at the moment. The need to insist on a government response to information that we send relating to a proposed system would be very difficult. It would be likely to result in unacceptable delays to shipments which were genuinely needed. At the moment, I am saying that our support for international initiatives on information exchange is absolute, but I feel that I cannot go further than that this evening.

Finally, several noble Lords, and among them my noble friends Lord Ferrers and Lord Monk Bretton, spoke about the Ministry of Agriculture's research programme and expressed concern that it should keep up so far as pesticides are concerned. It is fair to say that ADAS is giving priority to the development of integrated pest control systems for outdoor crops, to improvements in application methods, to the introduction of pest and disease-resistant varieties, and to making forecasting techniques for pest and disease incidence more effective. All of this is designed to contribute to reducing pesticide use to the minimum level consistent with efficient food production, as recommended by the Royal Commission in their seventh report.

Those are all the questions we have time for this evening, and I hope that this debate has been of benefit to those of your Lordships who have taken part in it. It has certainly been of benefit to the Government. I believe that this Bill will mark a significant step forward in food safety, marine pollution and pesticides, and so will make a practical contribution to improving the environment for everyone.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.