HL Deb 27 April 1998 vol 589 cc76-91

7.34 p.m.

Lord Stone of Blackheath

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. In doing so I should declare an interest. For 32 years I have worked in a company which has been involved with improving safety standards in foods for the consumer, for those involved in the food production chain and for the community at large.

Pesticides carry many important public health and economic benefits. For example, in agriculture they are used both to protect crops from pests and diseases and to increase yields. However, being designed to control or destroy living organisms they must, therefore, be regarded as potentially hazardous material. A comprehensive regulatory system has been put in place to ensure that only those pesticides which may be used without undue risk are placed on the market and are available for use.

The basis of the regulatory system is that before all new pesticides are given approval they are subject to a comprehensive scientific assessment, considering in particular the potential effects on human health and on the environment. The day-to-day work is carried out by the Pesticides Safety Directorate, which is part of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and the Health and Safety Executive. Where major decisions are to be taken, their work is overseen by the independent Advisory Committee on Pesticides. This committee in turn makes recommendations to Ministers in a number of departments and only when these Ministers are content, is approval granted to place the pesticide on the market. I shall not seek to detail these arrangements further at this stage because they work well and the Bill before your Lordships does not seek to change them. What the Bill does seek to do is make some improvements to associated features of the pesticides regime.

The Bill deals mainly with public access to information on pesticides. Because pesticides are hazardous products, it must be right that the public should have ready access to information about the pesticides to which they may be exposed. The powers to enable information to be provided are already in the legislation. However, the powers to provide detailed scientific information about individual pesticides can only be applied to pesticides approved since 1986 when the statutory system came into force. This means, in effect, that the comprehensive arrangements to provide information to the public cover less than half of the pesticides currently on the market. This Pesticides Bill would remove the 1986 cut-off date and would thus allow information on all the older pesticides (which are often of greatest concern to the public) to be made available.

The other main issue dealt with in the Pesticides Bill is the enforcement of pesticides legislation. Existing legislation set up a comprehensive system to ensure the orderly marketing and proper use of pesticides once they have been approved. Enforcement powers are shared between the agriculture departments, the Health and Safety Executive and local authorities. The powers given to these bodies to enforce the legislation are wide-ranging, but several minor areas for improvement have been identified and are included in the Pesticides Bill.

First, there is currently a restriction on the powers given to local authorities. Local authorities acquired enforcement powers when the original legislation was amended in 1989. However, the 1989 Act did not allow local authorities to be provided with the power to seize or dispose of pesticides. The Pesticides Bill would enable this power to be given to local authorities by way of legislation.

Secondly, the Pesticides Bill would introduce flexibility to the existing power for enforcement officers to serve enforcement notices. Enforcement notices are issued to those believed to be in breach of the regulations and indicate the action which should be taken. Clearly, it is possible that circumstances may change or that the enforcement officer may not have been in possession of all facts when first issuing the notice. The Bill, therefore, allows notices to be withdrawn and re-issued in these circumstances.

Thirdly, the Bill introduces a power to enable potential witnesses to be questioned. The power is designed to maximise the information which can be gathered but includes a safeguard that the evidence so collected cannot be used to prosecute the interviewee, unless they have perjured themselves. I understand that the usual powers under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act would be used to interview suspects.

Fourthly, the Pesticides Bill would extend the present power which authorises enforcement officers to photograph written records. The Bill would enable photographs to be taken of anything which might prove helpful to the investigations.

The Pesticides Bill also makes a technical amendment to the arrangements for making secondary legislation in Northern Ireland. This would allow secondary legislation on pesticide residues to be set out in a single instrument where at present two are required.

The United Kingdom already has a strong system of regulatory control for pesticides. This Pesticides Bill would improve the operation of these arrangements. In particular, the change to allow the public to be given comprehensive information on all pesticides rather than simply those authorised or reviewed since 1986 is a valuable amendment to the legislation. I commend the Bill to the House.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Stone of Blackheath.)

7.39 p.m.

Lord Kimball

My Lords, I am certain that everyone would want me to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Stone of Blackheath, on starting to carry through his first Private Member's Bill. However, I think that he will find that it is not quite the same experience as was making his excellent maiden speech. I am confident that the House will extend to him the same courtesies, but I am not quite certain whether we shall be able to extend to him the same tolerance towards the errors and omissions of this legislation. The noble Lord reminded the House of something of which we are well aware. I refer to his connection with one of the principal food retailers in this country, whose name is associated with value for money and quality.

Food safety concerns us all. We have lived through the BSE crisis, e-coli outbreaks and the farce of beef on the bone. We seem to have endless scare stories in the press on the subject which have the effect of eroding public confidence in this area.

In this Bill the noble Lord is attempting to extend into the public domain further information about the pesticides used in food production. However, I think that the Bill should be considered against the background of two other initiatives which are in the early stages of enhancing food safety in this country. I refer first to the Food Standards Agency, which is about to start its work according to nine guiding principles to protect pubic health in relation to food and to work in an open and consultative way". How does the noble Lord feel that his Bill fits in with the provisions of the Bill that we are shortly to consider on food safety regulations?

I am sorry that when introducing the Bill the noble Lord did not mention something that is regarded highly, certainly throughout the arable counties. I refer to the assured combinable crop scheme. It is an industry-backed voluntary initiative in support of this Bill. This summer the first quality-assured crops will be harvested. Crop merchants are already putting out contracts under the scheme and I sincerely hope that some are being put out for purchase by the organisation for which the noble Lord works.

Is the noble Lord aware that that scheme requires an 80-strong team of farm verifiers, who are commencing their visits this month to assess standards in relation to crop protection, sprays, spray records and pesticide label recommendations? The scheme needs finance. In fact, that is being met by a levy on all those competing with the scheme. I simply do not understand how it is said that the noble Lord's Bill does not require finance. As I read it, there are to be enforcement powers and powers to direct other persons to take remedial action. There are powers to extend the Bill to Northern Ireland. Surely the Bill should have been subject to a financial resolution in the other place.

However, I do not see why the noble Lord should be penalised for what is becoming a very disturbing habit. I do not believe in Private Members' Bills being government-sponsored or government-hand-outs. There should be no such thing, although we should admit that there is such a thing. What normally happens is that a private Member who is selected in the ballot will feel strongly enough about an issue to want to do something about it. It is wrong that we should continue to allow private Members in another place to introduce measures which incur financial liability without a proper financial resolution being placed. I hope that the noble Lord can give us some guarantee that the expenditure problems which this Bill creates will be dealt with.

I do not want to delay the matter further, but I must advise the noble Lord that we shall certainly seek minor amendments in Committee. First, we all know that the position of Secretary of State is recognised in law, but the Bill does not specify which Secretary of State. That vagueness in the Bill reflects a problem that we all know exists between the Secretaries of State responsible for agriculture and for the environment. We shall want to be more specific in Committee and to have the matter sorted out. Secondly, the definition of "information" is too broad and, thirdly, the provisions seek to empower certain officers to a greater extent than is desirable.

Subject to those three small amendments, which I am confident that the noble Lord will be able to accept because they will not in any way delay the progress of the Bill—they will improve it—I thank the noble Lord for introducing the Bill and wish it well.

7.45 p.m.

The Countess of Mar

My Lords, I begin by expressing my gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Stone of Blackheath, for his introduction of this Bill to your Lordships' House. It is a short Bill, described as "a dormouse" in another place, but none the less an important one in our progress towards greater freedom of information in this field. I have very little doubt that any noble Lord who has been in this House during the past six years will understand my interest.

I accept that the majority of users of pesticides are responsible individuals and that they make every effort to comply with existing legislation which, as Section 16 of the Food and Environment Protection Act 1985 indicates, is designed to protect the health of human beings, creatures and plants, to safeguard the environment and to secure safe, efficient and humane methods of controlling pests. There are, as I have found, some people who behave in a cavalier manner, with a total disregard for safety, perhaps because they are unaware of the implications, careless or take short cuts simply to save time and money.

Clause 1(1) of the Bill extends ministerial powers to seize and dispose of pesticides and treated materials to local authorities. If I understand it correctly, it should bring the law enforcers closer to the illegal activity in both the time and location and should reduce the delays which so often render any attempt to enforce legislation ineffective.

I particularly welcome Clause 1(2). Any move to make information on what is known, and perhaps what is not known, about the actions of a pesticide can only be helpful. May I ask the noble Lord the Minister to make clear one or two points? I have read the proceedings on this Bill in another place with great care and have been unable to ascertain whether the information to be made available concerns only the active ingredients of the pesticide formulation or whether it includes what are known as the inert ingredients. I ask this because research by the Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides in the USA recently identified 25 per cent. of some of the 2,500 substances added to pesticides but not named on product labels as hazardous. Some 400 of these so-called "inerts" are in fact active ingredients in other pesticides; for example, coal tar, a known carcinogen, and naphthalene, considered to be of "unknown toxicity" but on the other hand known to destroy red blood cells.

May I ask the Minister whether the Government intend that full disclosure of the formulation is intended? I can see that there may be some difficulty here. This could justify a refusal on the grounds that commercial confidentiality would be breached. I am sure the Minister will appreciate how important full disclosure is to an individual who believes that his or her health has been damaged by exposure to a pesticide; a medical practitioner treating such a person; a veterinary surgeon treating an animal; or any person investigating an environmental incident to establish exactly what chemicals may be implicated. Is there any means whereby the information could be divulged to an individual inquirer but not to a competitor?

I note that Section 16(4) of the Food and Environment Protection Act 1985 states that: Pesticides may be identified in any way for the purposes of this … Act". Despite the recent tightening of the controls for the purchase, use and disposal of sheep dips, which are veterninary medicines, there is still evidence that the law is not always observed. Can the Minister inform the House whether sheep dips will come within this legislation?

In another place there was discussion about the feasibility of putting information on the Internet. I commend this practice to the Minister. I have made considerable use of the service provided in the USA and would be delighted if it could be extended to the United Kingdom. The Minister in another place made much of the facilities provided by the reading room at the Pesticides Safety Directorate in York. While I accept that this facility is excellent, it is not much help to a person who lives some distance from York, is ill and is unlikely to be able to afford the rail fare, no matter how good the rail services.

I also welcome Clause 1(4)(b) which extends the provision of information on pesticides to those in use prior to 1986. I ask the Minister how many pesticides in current use fall into this category.

The power to question embodied in Clause 2, new paragraph 2A is a very necessary addition. All too often I have been made aware that an individual who has been concerned with an incident where a pesticide has been purchased, stored, used or disposed of illegally has been afraid to speak out for fear of jeopardising his or her employment. This is especially applicable to certain areas of the country where unemployment is high and employers are still, dare I say it, feudal. This was highlighted when I heard of a joint HSE/Pesticides Trust research project in Lincolnshire which was hampered by just such a situation. While I am pleased that every effort is now to be made by investigating officers to obtain such information, I have no doubt that a determined employer, who may later be the subject of a prosecution, will at least attempt to prevent an employee from divulging information of an incriminating nature. I ask the Minister what protection will be available to an employee or other person against loss of employment or any action which may affect their current position.

Clause 2, new subparagraph (3) permits an investigating officer to photograph anything which he believes is relevant to the exercise of his functions under paragraph 4 of Schedule 2 to the 1985 Act. Frequently, an infringement of the law takes place when no investigating officer is present. I think particularly of field-spraying operations when a member of the public may be present with a camera. I am not sure whether such evidence is currently accepted. If it is not, would the Minister consider extending this provision to admit photographs produced as evidence by a person other than the investigating officer?

I look forward to the progress of the Bill, I hope unhampered, through your Lordships' House.

7.53 p.m.

The Earl of Clanwilliam

My Lords. I too congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Stone of Blackheath, for introducing this Bill. I apologise to him that I missed the first minute of his opening speech. Any Bill that serves to regulate pesticides in the marketplace and their indiscriminate use is to be recommended and supported. Where farming has been changed from being an occupation to an industrial enterprise by the concentration of market forces and the drive for intensive production there will inevitably be a small proportion of the intensive farming community who will take the easy route to soil management by throwing pesticides at any problem, often on the advice of the pesticide salesman. Control is important on several fronts.

Soil management is a vital part of the sustainable environment, and the reckless use of chemicals seriously damages our inheritance. Is the Minister aware that Wessex Water offers a premium of £12 an acre to any farmer who can be persuaded to convert to UKROF standards of organic farming in an attempt to reduce the leaching of agricultural chemicals into the water supply? Does this not impress the Minister as proof of the need drastically to reduce the use of pesticides on all fronts? In this context the power to seize and dispose of chemicals, and in particular what is euphemistically called treated materials, is very useful to local authorities. In Clause 2 "enforcement notices" has the ugly ring of the thought police, but this is a vital matter and recalcitrant farmers must be held to pay special regard to the safety of the food that they grow for public consumption, of which the noble Lord, Lord Stone, is well aware and is a great exponent.

The recent help offered by the Ministry to organic farmers is most welcome. While it is not directly relevant to the Bill, I hope I shall be allowed to make that point. Perhaps I may ask whether other water companies will be encouraged by the Minister to take a leaf out of the book of Wessex Water. The residual effect of all pesticides on the crop which will pass through the food chain is well known to dieticians. I should be glad to hear from the Minister whether the department is taking on board the serious effect of organophosphates on society and small children in particular. This is especially so when it is used as a pesticide in horticulture. It is all very well to be told that there is no danger when the department itself has recently tightened up the regulations about its use in horticulture. If there is no danger, why is there any need to restrict its use? The Bill states that pesticides are permitted to be marketed or used only if they are safe to people and the environment. If one is altering the structure of a product that is allowed to be used there must be danger in it.

Is it not worth pointing out for the umpteenth time that this particular pesticide is derived from a nerve gas that directly affects the central nervous system and for which there is no known cure? Not only that, but its effects are cumulative and fatal. I say this in deference to the noble Countess, Lady Mar, whose strictures on the subject are well known to noble Lords. We have the examples of Dieldrin and Aldrin, not to mention DDT, which in our wisdom and in the light of revealed knowledge have been banned. When will we come, as inevitably one day we will, to the conclusion that OPs should join that insalubrious list? I hope that the Bill will have fair passage through your Lordships' House.

7.56 p.m.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley

My Lords, this Bill is about freedom of information and public safety in a field that causes increasing concern, not least in your Lordships' House where the noble Countess, Lady Mar, has rightly pestered the Government to come clean on the matter of OPs. It may be that she is partly responsible for the fact that this Bill reached the shelf of the Ministry of Agriculture from which it was rescued by the noble Lord and his colleague in the other place.

There is a growing body of opinion that there is a fundamental connection between many of these chemicals and the incidence of cancer. Only last week my noble friend Lord McNair hosted a meeting in this House at which Mr. Teddy Goldsmith delivered a lecture in memory of his brother in which that point was strongly made. In another place on Third Reading of this Bill that admirable Member of Parliament, Sir Richard Body, raised the same point.

It is not that we do not need science and technology to help us. We have thankfully left an era in which Pliny the Elder could state as a fact that naked menstruating women walking round grain fields could cause caterpillars and beetles to fall dead. We need to have the knowledge to control pests properly but to control them in such a way that we do not poison ourselves or, for that matter, the useful insects, the bird population or the fish in our streams.

The problem under the current law is that the public have access to information on only about 40 per cent. of approved pesticides, which do not include a large number of the older and more popular ones which this Bill will bring within the system. We on these Benches believe it is important that maximum information on these dangerous substances should be available to the public. It may be that this Bill does not go far enough. Clause 1(3) gives Ministers power to consider making information available to the public. This surely is inadequate. Information must be provided and freely available, not just on the Minister's whim.

The Minister in another place gave an undertaking that all information requested would be made available. I accept that that will be so for the foreseeable future. But we come across the problem that your Lordships always encounter at this point in a Bill. The Minister cannot bind his successors. If that is what is intended why is it not on the face of the Bill? We all know that we are in an area where if people are harmed important commercial interests come into play. There could be very powerful reasons for some people in some circumstances not wanting full information to be made available. There have been such cases in the past. It would be wildly optimistic to think that there will not be some in the future.

It is now more than ever possible to make such information easily available. It was suggested in another place, and has also been suggested here this evening, that the information should be put on the Internet. The Minister took that suggestion on board and said that he would take advice on the matter (Hansard of Sub-Committee C, 4/3/98; col. 6.) I should be interested to know if the Minister can let us know what advice the Minister has taken since he gave that undertaking, and what the ministry intends to do.

One of the elements in the Bill of which we on these Benches approve in principle is the bringing down of the responsibility in these matters to local level. In principle, we of course agree with that, but will the local authorities have the resources adequately to carry out their duties? Here I join the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Kimball, about the pretence that the Bill does not carry costs with it, although I challenge the noble Lord, who must know from his experience in another place, that just as another place does not exist so far as concerns this House, so there is only one Secretary of State. Having sat in another place there may have seemed to him to have been several Secretaries of State, but technically speaking there is only one. So in legislation it is not considered right to particularise which part of the one Secretary of State is responsible.

I look forward to hearing the matters that we shall discuss in Committee, but, in the meantime, I have great pleasure on behalf of these Benches in giving full support to the Bill.

8.1 p.m.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns

My Lords, I, too, add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Stone of Blackheath, on the manner in which he introduced the Bill and the clear explanation that he gave. Like him, I declare an interest—it is not as professional as his—as someone who occasionally uses pesticides, like the vast majority of the population of this country, in the garden and the home. I note that the Bill affects not just farmers and producers but home owners, as entry into private homes is covered in the Bill.

My noble friend Lord Kimball referred to the practice of government hand-out of Bills. When I read Hansard of another place, I noticed with interest that the Minister of State admitted freely that this is a hand-out Bill left over from the previous government, not an invention of the present Government, and that it fills a gap identified some while ago. So it is hardly surprising that I, too, agree with the Bill's objectives, but I still have some questions to ask and issues to explore. There are two reasons for that.

First, I seek, whenever possible, to apply to legislation what I call the "Judge Bassingthwaighte" principle introduced to us in the Social Security Bill; that is, that a Bill which enjoys bipartisan support paradoxically needs to be challenged more strenuously in order to test its effect. The second reason why I should like to examine the Bill in some detail is that this House possesses expertise uniquely available within the Palace of Westminster, which means that we can examine effectively aspects of the Bill which might not receive such attention in another place. That is a fact recognised by my honourable friend Mr. Paice who is recorded in Hansard of another place as saying that there were legal technicalities in the Bill which might well require the judgment of Members of this House who may have more expertise in such matters. I am sure that we shall try not to let his confidence in this House flag.

I shall ask the Minister a number of questions. If they can be addressed by the noble Lord, Lord Stone, I shall be grateful. However, I do not wish to make the noble Lord's life difficult at this or any stage of the Bill. I recognise that it may be more appropriate for the Minister to answer them, either now or in Committee.

The Bill makes several improvements to the provision of information with regard to pesticide control and enforcement, which I welcome. I was pleased to note that the noble Lord, Lord Stone, recognised that the UK already has the most rigorous controls on pesticide registration in the EU.

Clause 1(3) deals with the release of information on older products that have not yet been reviewed by the Pesticide Safety Directorate. My noble friend Lord Kimball referred to costs. My first question relates to the costs to be incurred in complying with the new provisions of the Bill. It was an issue raised by my honourable friend Mr. Paice in another place. Like him, I am anxious to ensure that the industry is not burdened with unnecessary costs in providing information which the public may not demand to see. Will the Minister tell the House what costs are to be incurred in providing information? How will the calculation be made and what will constitute a reasonable charge which will not then deter research?

I note that in another place the Minister of State claimed that the wording in the Bill: the cost reasonably attributable to the supply of the information", was chosen to replace the old phrase a "reasonable fee" because its construction is tighter. Do the Government intend that the cost of supply should be limited to photocopying? How will they calculate that? Will they take into account matters such as the full cost of labour, maintenance of machinery and depreciation?

The question of how information may be transmitted to interested parties was raised by the noble Countess and the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont. Like them, I shall he interested to learn what advice the Minister received with regard to the use of the Internet, and what decision the Government have made with regard to using the Internet for posting information? I should like to take the opportunity to congratulate MAFF on its website. It has an excellent home page. Its signposting is the best within Whitehall. It gives a lesson to some other government departments. One department which I hope might learn from MAFF would be the DETR. I have torn out some hair trying to find my way around its website. That could never be said of MAFF's.

Clause 1 raises also civil liberties issues which we may need to examine in some detail in Committee. It extends to the local authority the power to enter premises as prescribed in the 1985 Act. Those premises include private homes. Have the Government considered fully the implications of extending to the local authority the power to enter private homes to take photographs and videos of evidence?

Clause 2 deals with improving the operation of investigations where allegations have been made, bringing it into line with the normal procedures of the Health and Safety Directorate. It is an attempt to make enforcement effective against the holding of illegal pesticides. It is a move that we on these Benches welcome.

I seek confirmation from the Minister that I have correctly understood the provisions of Clause 2(2) with regard to two points. Those two points relate to perjury and the sanctions for non-compliance. First, with regard to perjury, currently an inspector is allowed only to ask a person to volunteer information. The amendment to Schedule 2 of the 1985 Act introduced by this Bill gives the inspector the power to question the individual and obtain a signed statement. New Section 2A(4) provides that a person is not to be excused from giving information on the ground that it might incriminate him or that person's spouse, but: a statement or admission made in complying is not admissible in evidence against either of them in proceedings for any offence other than perjury". When the subsection was discussed in the other place there seemed to be confusion about its implications—at least, I was certainly confused when I read the debates on the matter. Therefore, I wish to seek guidance on whether I have correctly understood the clause. I hope that your Lordships will forgive me if I pose a practical explanation of how the Bill might operate.

Let us say, first, that an officer questions me and I give a statement that I am storing illegal pesticides for Mrs. Bloggs. Some time later, I find myself in court. At this stage, there are three possible scenarios. First, I am the defendant charged with storing the pesticides and I state in court that I have not stored them. I understand that the Bill prevents the prosecution from adducing my original statement as evidence against me in those proceedings. But if it wishes subsequently to prosecute me in separate proceedings for perjury it can use the first statement as evidence.

The second scenario would be that I am a prosecution witness in the trial of Mrs. Bloggs. Again, I lie and say that I have not stored the pesticides. My first statement can be brought into that case only if the prosecution wishes to apply to treat me as a hostile witness by demonstrating that I had made a previous statement which was inconsistent with my oral evidence. It would then be used as to my unreliability as a witness but not against me because it would not be in proceedings against me. However, the prosecution could subsequently bring a charge of perjury against me and, as in the previous scenario, use the first statement as evidence against me in those proceedings.

The third scenario is that I am a witness for the defence in the prosecution against Mrs. Bloggs. Again, I lie in court. I promise your Lordships that I would never do such a thing, especially having until recently been a magistrate. Again, I lie in court and say that I did not store the illegal pesticides. The first statement can be used as evidence, but only to demonstrate the unreliability of my oral evidence. It cannot be used against me because the proceedings are not against me. However, the prosecution could subsequently bring a case of perjury against me.

I hope that those three scenarios have given the House an example of the issues about which the other place got into such a tangle. I hope that the Minister can reassure me that my legal interpretation is correct with regard to the three scenarios. If so, I would not have too much trouble with the wording of the Bill, but it may be that those who must operate the Bill will have some difficulty.

The other issue is the sanction for non-compliance. I wish to query the sanction which can be imposed on a person who is asked by an officer to give information, but simply refuses to do so. Debates in another place refer to the sanction as lying within the provision of the Food and Environment Protection Act 1985. Does that Act require further amendment to ensure that the sanctions are extended to cover the amendments introduced by the Bill? If not, can the Minister direct me to the relevant provision?

I, too, wish the Bill well. I am sure that noble Lords will bring their expertise to bear in discussions in Committee. We on these Benches support the underlying objectives of the Bill.

8.13 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Lord Donoughue)

My Lords, the Bill before us is designed to improve the effectiveness of the United Kingdom pesticides legislation and the provision of information about pesticides to the public. The Government fully support the Bill and I wish to congratulate my noble friend Lord Stone for sponsoring it before your Lordships. He did it so well that he runs the risk of carrying similar burdens in the future.

I wish to set the Bill in a general context, but, first, I shall touch on some of the questions that have been asked. I noted 18 questions. As we have a time constraint I shall not be able to answer them all. However, I wish to deal with some of them in order to ensure that they are dealt with at the beginning and not lost in the rush at the end. I can assure the noble Baroness that I can speak for 20 minutes without answering any questions.

The noble Lord, Lord Kimball, asked about the relationship with the Food Safety Agency. We see no reason why the Bill should not sit alongside the aims of the agency. It is important for us to take the opportunity offered by my noble friend to tighten up relevant existing legislation.

The noble Countess, Lady Mar, asked about active and inert ingredients. Some details are bound to be confidential, but all formulants are assessed and the evaluation published covers the safety of the whole product, not just the active substance. She asked whether the legislation will be extended to sheep dips. I do not need to point out that separate legislation already applies to sheep dips, which are considered veterinary medicines. It applies similar standards of safety and efficacy to those set out in pesticides legislation.

The noble Countess asked about the balance of pesticides since 1986. Information is available only in respect of about 40 per cent. of pesticides. That will increase to 100 per cent. once the Bill is passed. She asked what protection is available to employees who give a statement. A copy of the statement is given to the person who made it, if he wants it, but a copy is not given to the employer.

I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Clanwilliam, for raising the assistance offered by a water company in the conversion to organic fanning. We are sympathetic towards organic farming and applaud the initiative taken by the company and encourage others to follow its good example.

The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, asked about the information available. Regulations to provide access to all information that is not strictly commercially confidential will be laid as soon as possible. An increasing amount of information on pesticides is being placed on the Internet. There is a risk that placing detailed information on the Internet would increase the risk of misuse by rival companies. But there is likely to be scope to go further and this is being pursued.

The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, asked an impressive number of questions, most of which I wrote down. We do not believe that the Bill will require the industry to provide any additional information. The costs charged will cover the administrative costs, including an element for labour. The maximum price charged for any document is set at £25 and there is no intention to increase that by more than the rate of inflation.

I shall certainly write to noble Lords about the points that they have raised. I shall also try to come to grips with the three scenarios which the noble Baroness presented.

Perhaps I may set the Bill in context and outline briefly the current arrangements and indicate how those would be developed by the provisions of the Bill. In the UK there is a rigorous and detailed system for regulating pesticides. To gain approval for their products, pesticide manufacturers must provide detailed scientific information about health and environmental effects. That is evaluated within government and important decisions referred to the independent Advisory Committee on Pesticides which makes recommendations to Ministers in five government departments. Only if all agree will approval be granted.

A considerable volume of information about pesticides is already available. This includes evaluations carried out by the advisory committee which provide a great deal of high quality scientific information and assessment. In addition, the data submitted by companies underlying these documents are available for inspection.

The Bill before the House today has three features. The first is the extension of powers for providing information. At present, those extend only to about 40 per cent. of pesticide compounds; that is, those evaluated or reviewed since 1986. The Bill would allow Ministers to bring all pesticides within the arrangements.

Some questions were raised in another place as to the costs of extending these arrangements. As I said, it is not intended that any existing charges should increase should the Pesticides Bill enter into law.

The Bill makes several minor improvements to current enforcement arrangements. Current powers allow enforcement officers to serve enforcement notices but do not allow a notice to be re-issued or withdrawn. The Bill would allow this flexibility. The Bill would provide a new power so that a person being questioned would be obliged to answer the questions put to him. However, the information thus obtained could not be used in a prosecution other than for perjury and safeguards are included to prevent the powers being used to intimidate. The Bill would allow an enforcement officer to photograph anything reasonably believed to be relevant to an investigation. Current powers extend only to documents, books and records.

The Bill provides that Ministers may make regulations so as to give local authorities powers to seize or dispose of pesticides following a breach of any legislation.

The final provision of the Bill is a technical amendment to streamline the making of secondary legislation in Northern Ireland.

I pay tribute to the vigilance of the major food retailers in ensuring the safety and quality of the food they sell. The work they carry out in respect of the residue testing is a valuable complement to the Government's own programme. There is already a great deal of contact between companies and government officials in this area and that is an approach we should like to encourage and see developed further.

I conclude by saying that the Government welcome the Pesticides Bill, in particular the extension of public access to information. I commend the Bill to the House.

8.24 p.m.

Lord Stone of Blackheath

My Lords, I take the opportunity to commend the Bill to noble Lords. Its provisions are sensible and in the area of public access to information on pesticides they represent a significant improvement on current powers.

I am grateful for the comments made by your Lordships and for the general support for the Bill. I thank the Minister for answering many of the questions raised this evening. I do not wish to go over those questions again but look forward to discussing any of the points not answered fully in Committee.

I am grateful to the noble Countess for bringing her expertise to this Second Reading debate. I am grateful also for the support of the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, and the noble Baroness. I am not sure that the unscrupulous Mrs. Bloggs would share my gratitude.

I commend the noble Earl on his passion for organic produce which one must surely applaud. Finally, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Kimball, and I look forward to discussing his proposals in Committee.

I shall not expand on the present pesticides approval system and its enforcement powers since the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, summed up the relevant details. I would, however, like to speak for a few moments about the Bill itself and emphasise the main areas of improvement it makes possible.

First, on access to information, I agree with the noble Countess, Lady Mar, that the public should have a right to be able to find out as much as possible about pesticides about which they may have concerns. As already pointed out, current legislation only allows the public to access information on pesticides approved or reviewed since the introduction of regulatory controls over pesticides in 1986. However, this represents a minority of those pesticides on the market today—about 140 out of 340. The Bill will open up access to information on pesticides which were authorised under previous arrangements. As a result, the public will be able to access information on all pesticides.

Secondly, on enforcement powers, investigation officers, who ensure that all aspects of pesticides marketing and use are fully complied with, face difficulties in the execution of their work. These difficulties lie mainly in the fact that officers do not have powers equivalent to those available under other legislation, including the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. That has sometimes made it more difficult to enforce pesticides legislation. Again, the Bill would improve the ability of officers to enforce pesticides legislation.

Thirdly, on secondary legislation for Northern Ireland, although the Bill only provides a minor technical amendment to allow the Northern Ireland authorities to make secondary legislation on pesticides, this is nevertheless important. At the moment Northern Ireland authorities face delays and increased work as a result of having to make regulations under two primary Acts. This delay, which I should point out affects pesticides legislation only, also disadvantages the agrochemical industry and farmers are not able to make use of newer technology. This Bill addresses that point.

I believe the Bill makes valuable improvements to pesticides legislation and in particular offers scope to improve, by regulations, the public's access to information on pesticides. I ask your Lordships to give the Bill a Second Reading. In doing so I wish to say how grateful I am for the support I have been given today. As the noble Lord, Lord Kimball, pointed out, this is my first Bill. I have been helped enormously by officials who have taught me more about pesticides than I ever wish to know although, yes, my work has made me familiar with all aspects of food safety, including the Food Safety Agency on which we have offered advice. Your Lordships' advice and helpful contributions at this late hour have been encouraging. I thank noble Lords and commend the Bill to the House.

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

Lord Hoyle

My Lords, I beg to move that the House be now adjourned during pleasure until 8.35 p.m.

[The Sitting was suspended from 8.30 to 8.35 p.m.]