HL Deb 25 July 1986 vol 479 cc532-9

2.8 p.m.

Lord Skelmersdale rose to move, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 3rd July be approved. [29th Report from the Joint Committee.]

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move that the draft Control of Pesticides Regulations 1986, which were laid before this House on 3rd July, be approved.

Pesticides are the products of advanced science, and I shall, if I may, borrow from the language of science by first describing the regulations' properties and, secondly, their mode of action. As to their properties, these regulations give practical effect to those aspects of Part III of the Food and Environment Protection Act 1985 which Parliament concluded should be implemented by regulation—effectively the long list of activities contained in Section 16(2) of that Act, which gave Ministers power to prohibit, approve, consent to, and review pesticides. They do not deal with those aspects of the new arrangements which the Act specified should be settled by administrative action, particularly the information requirements on notifiers of new products, or the levying of fees on applicants and approval holders. Departments are setting those arrangements in place separately but to the same timescale.

The coverage of the regulations is broadly the same as currently covered by the Pesticides Safety Precautions Scheme: pesticides used in agriculture, horticulture, forestry, food storage, public health and hygiene, wood preservation and masonry treatment. From 1st July 1987 this scope will be expanded to include anti-fouling paints. This is a major departure and one which I hope will be welcome to all who are concerned for the quality of the marine environment.

Now to the mode of action. The regulations start by prohibiting all the activities which they intend to bring under control; in practice, the sale, supply, storage, advertisement and use of pesticides. But in the same breath they introduce the concepts of approvals and consents, which in their different ways ensure that these activities can in practice be undertaken, but under conditions. Regulation 5 describes the system of approvals, which your Lordships will realise relate specifically to individual pesticides, and which, as you will also observe, restrict the sale and advertising of pesticides to those which have progressed beyond the experimental stage. It is in the process of scrutiny of pesticides prior to approval that a great deal of the expert work of the Advisory Committee on Pesticides will be done.

But because Parliament felt it desirable, when it debated the Act last year, that conditions should be imposed on, for example, the advertising, storage and use of all pesticides, we have also provided for consents, which relate to each of the controlled activities rather than to the individual pesticides. These allow us to make general rules covering most or all of the products approved, and thus to set standards for training of operators, for safety in aerial application, for safety in commercial storage, to quote only a few examples.

On this point, I believe I owe the House some explanation. Draft Regulation 6 sets out the procedures for establishing these consents, but it has to be read with Schedules 1 to 4 which set out the basic conditions which we have it in mind to impose on distributors, advertisers, users and aerial operators. Those basic conditions are, however, only an outline of what we intend, and noble Lords will observe that the draft regulation permits Ministers to specify further conditions. It seems to us entirely right that in the detailed management of our policy for protecting health and the environment, and in implementation of the terms of the Act, Ministers should from time to time be permitted to impose further conditions. It also means, where it is already apparent that the terms of an outline consent are not sufficiently broad to meet our intentions, that we can quite properly ensure that the terms of the final consent as it is issued give full effect to those intentions.

Once I had grasped this central point I found that the schedules, though lengthy, were broadly self-explanatory. I trust that your Lordships will find yourselves in the same position. Nonetheless, I shall of course be very happy to answer any noble Lord who has questions about them.

Without wishing unduly to prolong this speech, there is one subject in which this House has shown considerable interest, and for that reason alone it merits special mention; that is, disclosure of information. I am pleased to be able to say that following consultations with all those interested in information on pesticides, we believe that we have found a way of meeting the twin commitments made to your Lordships and in another place to make available to the public and to researchers in the field as much information as possible, while taking full account of the commercial interests of those who supply the data.

This calls for the achievement of a fine balance between these two interests, and I believe that Regulation 8 will enable us to do that. In practical terms, our intentions are to publish information on approvals granted, reviews carried out, and the results of our monitoring work; to make available our detailed evaluations of all the toxicity, environmental and efficacy test data on a pesticide as it receives provisional approval under these regulations; where a genuine detailed query remains unanswered by the evaluation, to grant access to the study reports on which the evaluation was based. At each step, we will take great care to ensure that the availability of data does not jeopardise the commercial interests of those who supplied the data, often at a cost of several million pounds sterling.

These arrangements are a considerable step forward in the general move towards disclosure of information in the environmental field, and I am sure that the House will welcome them as such. I commend the draft regulations to the House. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 3rd July be approved. [29th Report from the Joint Committee.]—(Lord Skelmersdale.)

Lord John-Mackie

My Lords, it is many years since I left another place, and often very late at night when I was in Government and in Opposition I stood up at the Box to find probably one or two people in front of me and very few behind me. I thought I had left those days behind; but here I find myself in much the same position.

I thank the noble Lord for putting forward these regulations which, as he explained, resulted from a clause in the Food and Environment Protection Act 1986, an Act which had the approval of everybody and this portion to an extent had that approval as well. But I cannot say the same about the regulations today.

The clause attempted to make pesticides safe for users and the public. No one wants to prevent that. However, we need some explanation on some of the points mainly on the schedules which, as the Minister suggested, anybody can understand. I am not sure about that. In some of the regulations, particularly 5 and 6, it seems that Ministers are taking very wide powers to alter the provisions. The Minister said that they wanted these powers so that they could make alterations when they wanted to. I feel that gives them powers to do that without sufficient consultation. Many manufacturers and others are rather worried about that aspect. So far as one can see all they need to do is to make those regulations and then advertise them in the two gazettes, the London Gazette and the Edinburgh Gazette. This is worrying a lot of people and I have received a number of complaints on this point.

Sprays and spraying is a complicated business in every way. I must emphasise this to the Minister. It is necessary to have adequate consultation before an alteration is made. My noble friend Lady Nicol is sorry she is not here today. She is interested in the environ-mental side of the effects of pesticides. We are worried that we were promised 12 extra inspectors in the discussions on the Bill. Evidently we are not to get them, at least not immediately. This is worrying people who feel that one cannot have all this work to do without adequate inspection. I do not understand. I must quote the Parliamentary Secretary in another place on this instrument. She said: Recruitment to the agricultural inspectorate is in progress. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment has been unable to divert the envisaged additional resources, because of other demands. However, the Health and Safety Commission has assured the Government that the inspectorate will be able to meet its responsibilities."— [Official Report. Commons 16/7/86, col. 1126.] I find that a strange statement because many staff have left various Ministries since then. If this was envisaged to be necessary at the time of the Bill, what is the difference today? This requires looking into because if people are to be satisfied it is no use making regulations if the work cannot be inspected to see that the regulations are being carried out. I should like to hear what the noble Lord has to say about that.

Regulation 8 deals with information to the public. The Minister made a special point about that. In the regulation he mentioned it states: Upon the giving of a provisional approval … the Ministers may, at the request of any person, make available to him for inspection"— this is the phrase I should like to explain: on such conditions as they may determine". I presume that "they" are Ministers and I think that requires explanation about the powers they have and the conditions they will give. Manufacturers are worried about this. As the Minister explained, it costs millions in research to produce pesticides. Giving access to information that could help a competitor is very dangerous indeed. However well-intentioned people are in getting this sort of information, you never know what use could be made of it.

If I could come to the practical side—and it affects me—I am often tired of declaring my interest as I stand at his Box, since I think that by this time everybody knows it. I am a farmer and I use a lot of pesticides. I should like to deal for a moment with this question of tank mixes. That is in Schedule 3 and in paragraphs 2 and 3. The advantage of tank mixes to the user is very great and must be looked at very carefully. You can mix up to three, and sometimes four, sprays in a particular situation, and this not only saves pesticides to a great extent but also saves a lot of the actual physical work involved and it saves damage to the crop by going through it only once instead of two, three or four times.

On the matter of conditions for spraying, there are a lot of conditions put in regulations which (in this country particularly) come very seldom; and particularly so this year when we have so much wind that we have to act quickly and if we can do three or four sprays at once, it is a great advantage.

In the regulation—and it looks very clear—the implication in the two paragraphs so far as I can see is that you cannot do it unless there is an approval of these mixes. It cannot be carried out otherwise. Where does this approval come from? Does it come from the instructions on the label? If this is the case, it gives manufacturers a wide scope to prevent the use of mixes that might reduce their sales. I am not suggesting that manufacturers might do so intentionally; but, after all, they are only human and they might think it was just a good idea to miss out the fact that a particular spray could be mixed. I think that this has to be looked at.

The same applies to the use of adjuvants which are the non-pesticide or non-toxic mixes, the things that can be put into sprays such as spreaders to spread the liquid on to the leaf, and so on. These save sprays and make them more efficient. The same applies there. These two things need looking at and I hope the Minister will take note. Paragraph 4 in Schedule 3 is one about which I should like a little explanation. It says: No person shall use a pesticide in the course of business unless he has received adequate instruction and guidance in the safe, efficient and humane use of pesticides and is competent for the duties which he is called upon to perform.". There is nothing to say that he has to have a certificate, or how it is proved that he is competent to perform these duties. In the case of paragraph 5, the use of the phrase "commercial service" presumably means a contractor—and, of course, no bureaucrat, no member of a Ministry, will use one word if two will do—and it says: No person shall use in the course of a commercial service a pesticide approved for agricultural use. unless he has obtained a certificate of competence.". He needs a certificate. That seems a rather curious difference between the two. I wonder whether the Minister would care to say something about that.

On the question of advice and advisers, there is no word of them in the regulations. I understand that there is a legal problem here because since they are not in the Bill nothing can be said in the regulations. But advice and advisers is a very important factor in spraying, as is instanced by paragraphs 4 and 5, requiring them to know what they are doing. I understand that the industry's advisers have to meet the regulations, but that the ADAS advisers and, for that matter, other government advisers and independent advisers do not. I really think that should be cleared up.

The code of practice, which came out literally the other day (so I have not had a great deal of time to go through it) says on the subject of pesticides, on page 12, at paragraph 4.2: Having decided that use of a pesticide is absolutely necessary, consideration should be given to the safe use as well as its efficacy. When discussing pesticide requirements with your agrochemical manufacturer, supplier, distributor or adviser (who you should ensure holds a recognised qualification in the use of pesticides) refer to the … and check that the proposed pesticide and so on. Most advice comes often just from salesmen and so on and is checked by ADAS staff who do not have to be qualified. I ask the noble Lord to tell us what the position is there.

The other question concerns cost, which as usual this year is very important. Manufacturers are worried about the fees which are passed on to farmers and other users. They would very much like to know when these fees are to be decided and how much they will be. I gather that these regulations may cost around £2,250,000 in the first year. A lot of this is designed for the public good and surely there is a good case for the Government to bear some of this expenditure.

I should like to say a word or two about aerial spraying. I am on the whole very much against it unless it is absolutely necessary, but it is still carried out on a fairly large scale. There are two points here. The relevant distance from an SSSI is three-quarters of a nautical mile, which is a quite long way. In certain cases, it could be almost a whole farm. It seems that it might create a situation where the farmer could not get at the crop at all. The other point is that if you are using a fungicide, aerial spraying is not a danger: it is only when you use an actual pesticide or any other of the weedkillers that we use.

I am sorry to have taken so long, but this is a rather important subject and we were not too happy about this instrument. I trust that the noble Lord can help us before we let it through this House.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I must say that I enjoy debating with the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, because he has experience as an extensive producer whereas I, as a trained horticulturist, have experience of intensive uses. Both of us—he presently and I in the past—have used pesticides.

The noble Lord has asked a number of questions, and I shall do my best to answer them. If I find on reading the Official Report that I have missed any of them, perhaps I may be allowed to write to him and place a copy of my reply, as is usual, in your Lordships' Library.

The noble Lord started on the subject of informa-tion, with which I concluded in my opening remarks, and so perhaps that is an appropriate point at which to start on my reply to him. As I sought to explain in my opening speech, we have to provide a fair balance both for the needs of the farmer, for the often very large commercial interests of the pesticide producer and also for the needs of those people with environmental interests who want to keep a running check on the situation. Therefore, the conditions imposed under regulation 8(1) are to enable Ministers to provide protection for manufacturers' secret data. These conditions will set out specifically the arrangements for the release of such information. As I said, this is intended to keep this balance working.

The noble Lord also asked about the procedure for introducing and amending consents and, of course, I fully understand the noble Lord's concern about our ability to alter these consents. However, we believe it right for the Government to be able to add conditions, as I said in my opening speech, to the controls over sales, supply and use, because, as the noble Lord himself pointed out, conditions change extremely rapidly and it would not be practical to make endless regulations through the statutory instrument procedure, such as we are doing now. Therefore, some alternative, rapid means is required and I trust the noble Lord will agree that these regulations provide for that.

The noble Lord also asked about the training and certification, if I understood him correctly, of advisers, especially in ADAS. We intend that ADAS field staff offering advice on pesticides are seen to be qualified at least to the standard required of commercial salesmen who give advice. We are investigating the best way of achieving this and currently two possibilities occur to us: first, certification through the British agricultural standards inspection scheme, which will provide the standard for the commercial salesman; and, secondly, a more stringent test specially arranged and ratified by independent experts.

While I am on the point about ADAS, it would be appropriate to mention the matter of inspectors which the noble Lord raised. Of course, inspectors come under the Health and Safety Executive who are recruiting right up to their ceiling. I understand that two years ago the HSE had some 150 of these inspectors and their target for 1987 is some 160. All the inspectors will be involved in the enforcement of these regulations and will add that responsibility to their workload.

As regards how often inspectors visit, this will vary from farm to farm. There have been various scare stories put about that even where it is necessary, farms are not visited nearly often enough. My advice is that the most severe cases—that is, those which operate a lot of machinery and use a lot of chemicals—can be inspected as often as every year. In some of the more wild areas of the country—if I may so call them—there is obviously no need to have inspectors visiting the farms quite so often, and a longer period will ensue between inspections.

The noble Lord drew special attention to Schedule 2. Paragraph 2 in particular reads: In this Schedule 'pesticide approved for agricultural use' means a pesticide for which the approval provides that it may he used for the purposes of agriculture, horticulture, forestry or animal husbandry. That phrase means the individual preparation and not the tank mix, to which the noble Lord referred. The compatibility of chemicals for use in the same tank will be discovered by reference to a list of compatible chemicals and products which will be published by the Ministry and made widely available. In other words, by reference to a list you will know immediately and there will be no need to get into the intricacies of putting this information on the label of the particular canister in question.

Last, but by no means least, the noble Lord referred to paragraph 2(a) of Schedule 4.This relates to prior consultations with the Nature Conservancy Council where aerial operations are within three-quarters of one nautical mile of a site of special scientific interest. The noble Lord asked, first, why it is a nautical mile. I understand that aircraft operate in terms of nautical miles. Secondly, he asked why it is three-quarters and not perhaps a quarter of a nautical mile. The answer is because of the severe danger of drift from aerial spraying, about which I am sure the noble Lord knows far more than I do.

The paragraph refers to Section 29(1) of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 which relates to a small number of SSSIs where the Secretary of State has made an order. Remaining SSSIs and national nature reserves are covered by Section 28 of the Act. But because we have the power, which I described in my opening speech, to include further conditions for the outline consent, we intend to add in the consent itself for aerial spraying the requirement that prior consultations are required in relation to SSSIs covered by Section 28 of the Act. Thus, prior consultation with the Nature Conservancy Council will be required for all SSSIs and national nature reserves within three-quarters of one nautical mile of operations. So all SSSIs will quite definitely be covered.

I am quite sure that I have not mentioned various matters but, as I said at the beginning of this response, I shall carefully comb through the Official Report and should anything be missing I will of course answer.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

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