HL Deb 12 July 1985 vol 466 cc438-41

35 [Printed earlier.]

36 Clause 16, page 19, line 18, at end insert— ("(2A) Where either of the Ministers has given an approval, he may require the payment of reasonable fees from time to time—

  1. (a) in respect of the collection of information under section 15(11) above and the processing of information supplied under that subsection;
  2. (b) in respect of monitoring the effect of the use of pesticides in the United Kingdom,
by such persons as he considers appropriate.

(2B) Fees under this section shall be determined on principles settled by the Ministers with the consent of the Treasury and after consultation with organisations appearing to the Ministers to represent persons who are likely to apply for approvals.").

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I beg to move that this House do agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 35 and 36. The main effect of these amendments is to give the Government powers to include in the fees system charges which must be reasonable. These include a charge to cover the approval process, which includes the evaluation of all the safety and other data provided by applicants in support of an application; an element towards information collecting and processing costs, such as the pesticides usage surveys; and an element towards the costs of monitoring the effects of the use of pesticides, and especially our system of monitoring pesticide residues in food.

A further aim of these amendments is to add a provision requiring Ministers to determine the principles of the fees system after consultation with representatives of those persons on whom the fees will be charged. This last provision is very important because the powers in Clause 16 will not be implemented by regulations but by administrative action. I beg to move.

Moved, That this House do agree with the Commons in the said amendments.—(Lord Belstead.)

Baroness Nicol

My Lords, I am a little worried about Amendment No. 36. Having welcomed the idea of continuous monitoring, continuous research and continuous observation of everything that goes on in this field, and having touched very briefly on the funding of it, we now come to a point where it might be considered that those who are either manufacturing or using (or both) the substances in question might be asked to pay for the entire service.

As far as the farmers, the users, are concerned, it might be a retrograde step to expect them to pay for continuous monitoring. It is very important that the users of new products should be encouraged to innovate and to try out any new product that is on the market, because we assume that these are always improvements on what has gone before, particularly, we hope, from the environmental point of view.

The danger arises because if we ask the users to take on board the costs of monitoring in the future as well as possibly—who knows—the cost of further research, we may discourage them from taking on the use of the new pesticides. I should like to be a little reassured on how this is seen to be working out. Is the Minister talking about charges to manufacturers or to users? If it is to users, what right will they have in relation to the monitoring? Will it be that somebody can just arrive on their farm to see how it has worked out, to measure the effects and then charge them for that service for which they have not asked? I think it is fairly important that we should clear this up before we go any further on this amendment.

Lord Stanley of Alderley

My Lords, once again I am on the same side as the noble Baroness. Unbeknown to her, I wrote to my noble friend Lord Belstead on the very point she has raised. I support the noble Baroness on another point. If farmers are going to have to pay for this service—probably by the increased cost of the commodity—will they be consulted on these charges, perhaps through the NFU or by some other method?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, both the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, and my noble friend Lord Stanley have asked me very much the same question. When I moved the Government's case in response to the amendment, I outlined three different powers to include in the fees system charges which must be reasonable. This would include a charge to cover the approval process; an element towards information collecting and processing costs; and an element towards the costs of monitoring.

Both the noble Baroness and my noble friend are saying to me that this could jeopardise movement forward in the whole pesticides field. It was suggested that all this might become onerous for the payer; that in the end the producer, the farmer or the grower would be the payer; and that we should hesitate before going along this road. I should like to say in reply that, depending on exactly the components for which one is charging, we are probably talking about between £1 million and £2 million a year. But that is only an estimate. I should like to say to the noble Baroness that, although this amendment is taking power to be able to charge for all costs, we have by no means reached a decision that that is what we ought to do.

The first people to whom one would turn for paying the costs would be the agrochemical companies themselves. In deciding how much they would actually pass on to the primary producer, I am sure that they would bear in mind that their domestic sales last year were of the order of £350 million and that their export sales, I am delighted to say, were of the order of £480 million. We are therefore talking about £2 million of that enormous sum of money which is coming into the agrochemical companies.

Nonetheless, let me face squarely the point that some of this would come to the farming community. There are two important safeguards contained in the drafting. First, the principles of the fees system have to be settled after consultation with organisations appearing to represent persons who are likely to apply for approvals, and with no other groups. Secondly, the fees set must be reasonable. That means that they can be contested in the courts to test the basis on which they are being charged.

My noble friend wrote to me about this and, in addition, he asked me about how the consultation would work out. I have replied to my noble friend that, so far as consultation is concerned, one thinks first of all of the manufacturing companies, but I have no doubt there will be merchants who seek approval for imports or own-label sales. We are quite clear that some farmers will be applying for approvals for imports for their own use and also for approval for off-label uses where they are developing a new use for an existing chemical. The National Farmers' Union would therefore certainly expect to be consulted on the principles of the new system. We shall certainly bear in mind that a good deal of monitoring work is not directly related to use of pesticides either in agriculture or on United Kingdom territory, and that the fees charged should reflect this fact.

That brings me back to what I tried to say at the very beginning. Although it is true that the effect of this amendment is to give the Government power to be able to make charges for all the services given with pesticide clearance, monitoring and use, we have not by any means reached a decision as to exactly how far the charges should go, because we have to consult first.

12 noon

Lord John-Mackie

My Lords, the noble Lord the Minister has twice used the expression that the Government have not yet reached a decision. Like the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, who is also a farmer, I am always suspicious of the word "reasonable" in anything that we have to pay for. I wonder why it is that an expression such as "a calculated fee of the actual cost" could not be used instead of the words "a reasonable fee". Why not insert the words "a calculated fee"? Then one will know exactly what one is paying for.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, for a moment I thought that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Edmund-Davies, might give me the benefit of his advice on the meaning of the word "reasonable". My own interpretation of the word on behalf of the Government derives from what I endeavoured to say just now, which was that there are some elements of the fees system which clearly it might not be reasonable, or might be held by a court not to be reasonable, for the Government to try to pass on in the form of fees, for the reasons I gave just now. That is why we use the word "reasonable".

The reason why I say we have not yet reached final decisions is because, under the amendments, statutorily we have to consult.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Following is the text of Amendment No. 35:

35 Clause 16; page 19, line 10, leave out from ("pesticide") to ("tests") in line 15 and insert ("under this Part of this Act, on making his application, to pay a reasonable fee in respect of the administrative expenses of processing his application.