Agriculture (Toxic Sprays)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 20th November 1959.

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3.10 p.m.

Photo of Mr John Farr Mr John Farr , Harborough

I beg to move, That this House, in view of the increasing use of toxic sprays in agriculture, the growing damage caused by spray drift and the absence of any definite knowledge of the effect of these chemical substances upon human beings, domestic animals, wild life and crops, calls upon Her Majesty's Government to set up a commission of inquiry to examine the matter and to make recommendations. In rising to move this Motion, I am at the same time rising to address the House for the first occasion, and I trust that hon. Members will afford me the indulgence for which this House is renowned and listen to my few remarks with patience and understanding. I should also like to thank the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) for his earlier kind remarks, which are much appreciated.

I have the honour to represent the Leicestershire constituency of Harborough. It is a constituency of a gently undulating countryside, with several industrial, urban and suburban areas in the middle of it. The problem which I am trying to bring before the House today is not one, however, which concerns the Harborough countryside alone, but is rather one which, I submit, concerns the countryside of the whole of Britain today. It is the problem of the toxic sprays and their application to our countryside.

For some few days, I have engaged myself in fairly diligent research into this topic, and I have been struck by one particular thing. Not only is very little known of the short-term effects of toxic sprays upon the countryside, but practically nothing is known about the long-term effects. Moreover, so far as I can find out, there is no co-ordinated and organised research into this problem going on at the moment. There are certain firms and one or two other bodies which are making investigations into specific causes for investigation in connection with toxic sprays, but no overall investigation is being conducted at all.

My hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary is doubtless aware of the excellent Reports produced by the three working parties under Sir Solly Zuckerman. The first came out in 1951, the second in 1953 and the third in 1955, and even as long ago as that—four or five years ago—these working parties were unanimous in calling for more and intensive investigation into the use of toxic sprays.

In 1953, the acreage of our countryside which was being sprayed annually was just over 2½ million, and today I estimate that the problem has increased to such an extent that the annual acreage of our countryside which is sprayed is over 5 million. Moreover, since the last of these reports was produced, there have been several disturbing incidents which have occurred in the country The first, which I consider is probably of major importance, occurred in September this year, when a lady in Herefordshire died from consuming inadvertently a quantity of potato top killer called Stemmex. The jury at the inquest on this unfortunate lady declared in a rider which they added to their verdict that the use of arsenical sprays in agriculture should be prohibited.

I should like to reinforce the jury's plea by asking whether or not it is a fact that arsenate potato haulm killers came into general use when sulphuric acid was in short supply, and if investigations cannot be set on foot in order to determine whether there is not some more suitable potato top killer, probably with a sulphuric content, which can take the place of these arsenate chemicals at present in use. Moreover, if such a chemical is produced to kill potato tops, as soon as it is produced, and not before, all arsenical potato top killers should be immediately abandoned. I fully recognise that treatment of these millions of acres of the countryside are absolutely essential to the efficient operation of British farmers, but I submit that not enough attention is being paid to the by-effects of these applications.

The hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Mr. Braine), in July this year, referred to the terrific damage done to bees in his constituency. Bees with their pollinating abilities are one of the farmer's, the fruit grower's and the horticulturist's best friends. They produce on an average over £1½ million of honey which is sold on our markets. But they have suffered tremendously.

The bees in Essex are only one instance of countless cases this year alone where bees have died through coming into contact with sprays or poisons designed to kill harmful insects. The president of one of the country bee-keeping associations has described the bee population of this county as being decimated, and it is a matter of interest to know that today there are only one-third the number of people keeping or able to keep bees in this country as compared with pre-war days.

A further instance of where the use of toxic sprays has had very serious results—an instance which, I submit, can be repeated countless times—is that of a field of sugar beet in Lincolnshire which was sprayed with a chemical called Phosdrin produced by the Shell Company designed to combat an attack of green fly. The next day an examination was made of the sugar beet. Not only were all the green fly found to be dead, but, moreover, on a diligent search being made there was found to be not a single living creature of any sort in the field. In fact, nine dead young and old pheasants and partridges were picked up.

Again, I claim that this is a matter which calls for more organised investigation. If it is possible to develop selective weed killers, why cannot we develop selective insect killers so that the insecticides that are applied will do only the job for which they are designed, will kill only the pests which it is desired to eradicate and will leave alive and unharmed all the beneficial small insects, such as moths, ladybirds, butterflies and beetles, and also, to a lesser extent, birds? I am not today proposing any specific reform, but I am asking that investigation be set afoot to study the long-term effects.

What result is this indiscriminate killing of insects going to have on the balance of nature? Are we going to suffer from plagues of harmful insects in the near or distant future as a result of inadvertently killing their natural predators? What will be the long-term effect of the build-up of toxic sprays and chemicals in our soil?

Another aspect of the matter which calls for very urgent investigation is that of spray drift. Many cases are reported annually by horticulturists and market gardeners of spray drifting from nearby farming operations on to their crops. The spray of toxic chemicals can drift up to one mile and can ruin crops of vegetables.

I know that farmers generally are very careful men. They will not normally apply a spray if they think the weather conditions are unsuitable for its application or if it is likely to spread beyond the field to which it is applied. But I submit that they are working under great difficulty where some of the low volume applications have such a minute size of droplet that it becomes a tiny mist, which in the slightest windy conditions, in conditions with only a gentle breeze, is capable of drifting in this form for hundreds of yards.

I should like my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to ask my right hon. Friend whether it is possible for two aspects to be considered. First, I should like to know whether or not it is a fact that if the latest type nozzles were used, if spraying pressures were kept below 15 1b. per sq. in., a great deal of the spray-drift problem would disappear, and, moreover, we would not be likely to see next year an increase in the number of spray-drift cases of damage as have been reported this year.

My second point in this connection is one that calls for urgent investigation. At the moment, a horticulturist or market gardener who wants to protect himself from possible spray-drift damage has two courses open to him. The first is that he can arrange with an insurance company to have his crop insured against such possible damage. The second is that he has the opportunity, if his crop is not insured, of going to the farmer who has inadvertently damaged his crop and either settling the matter over the fence or going through normal legal channels. I submit that neither of these alternatives is very satisfactory.

In particular, my attention has been called to cases in Yorkshire where insurance companies are telling the grower of a damaged crop of lettuce or cauliflower "It does not matter whether you think these crops are fit to eat or fit to sell. You must salvage them. You must get what you can for them before we will settle your insurance claim for the balance."

I have in mind a case of a man in Yorkshire who, for four hours, suffered from drift from M.C.P.A. on his crop of lettuce which happened to be ready for cutting. He considered, and several other growers shared his opinion, that this crop was quite unfit for human consumption. Nevertheless, he was forced to market it and get what he could for it because his insurance company refused to consider his claim until such time as he had salvaged what he could and had got what he could for it.

I suggest that an entirely new aspect of approach by the Ministry is necessary. In future, where cases of spray-drift damage occur cannot the grower or horticulturist immediately contact his local Ministry officials or N.A.A.S. officials and ask them to examine the damage at once? Cannot the Ministry officials then have the authority to condemn his crop and declare it unfit for human consumption in the national interest? Cannot we then have compensation paid to the grower by the Government, on similar lines as compensation is paid to farmers and poultry keepers—for instance, in the case of foot and mouth disease in cattle, fowl pest in poultry and swine fever in pigs? This is urgent and calls for some action to see that the housewife is not faced with the possible chance of inadvertently consuming vegetables which have been damaged by poison in one respect or another. The instances that I have given are only a few of the many which I unearthed in this very complex subject.

I am glad to feel that it is generally recognised in this country that hedgerows provide a very important reservoir of natural wild life. I think I can say with confidence that hedgerows are not sprayed at all, except in special cases such as at the corner of a road, or where there are beds of particularly noxious and contagious weeds. I am concerned to learn, however, that the same knowledge and respect which is applied to hedgerows is not applied to our rivers and streams, and particularly not to fish.

I am told, and I understand it is true, that Scotland is renowned for haggis. I ask my hon. Friend if it is not true that she has equally world-wide renown for wonderful fishing. I have received letters from several bodies in Scotland saying that, in their opinion, damage by chemical spraying of their rivers, damage to the fish and the food on which fish feed, has reached such serious proportions, especially in the damage to spawning grounds, that they class spray drift and chemical spraying damage on a par with damage at present suffered from industrial and sewage pollution.

I fully realise that agricultural sprays help the British farmer to do a difficult job well. I do, however, ask that a commission of inquiry into the whole complex subject should be appointed. I ask that this commission should examine the short term and the long term effects of these sprays. Can we develop sprays just as efficient and economic which will do the job designed only and not leave whole tracts of our countryside completely devoid of any form of wild life after their application? Can we have examined the effect of the annual build-up of toxic chemicals in our soils? Can it be arranged that agricultural colleges, when they instruct students in the use of toxic sprays, also instruct them in the dangers of the use of toxic sprays?

Finally, I ask if we cannot now establish a permanent research centre whereby all problems connected with toxic sprays and their application can be investigated and whose job it would be to study chemo-warfare in agriculture to see that the advances our scientists have made are used as fully as possible but applied with care and understanding of the effects upon other possibly lower forms of life.

3.27 p.m.

Photo of Mr Tufton Beamish Mr Tufton Beamish , Lewes

I beg to second the Motion.

In seconding the Motion, I have the very pleasant task of congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) on the admirable and constructive speech he has just made, admirable, I think, both as regards its material and its presentation. I would warn him that he is setting himself a very high standard for the future and that we certainly look forward to seeing him live up to it.

Perhaps his speech was particularly effective because he was obviously speaking from firsthand knowledge of these problems, which is not surprising, since I understand he has firsthand knowledge of farming, not only in his constituency, but also in Ireland and in Rhodesia. I feel sure I am speaking for all hon. Members, on both sides of the House, when I say that we look forward very much indeed to hearing his future contributions whenever he is fortunate enough to catch Mr. Speaker's eye.

This is obviously a very important subject, and it is one which is increasingly in the public mind. I have myself been very interested in it for a long time. I put some Questions to the Minister of Agriculture on 3rd July, 1958. My hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will remember that I expressed myself as rather disappointed with the replies. None the less, I hope that when he replies to this debate I shall be better pleased.

I strongly support the plea which my hon. Friend made so eloquently for the setting up of a commission of inquiry. This would be one way to deal with this growing problem, though whether it is necessarily the best way I am not entirely sure. If a Royal Commission were set up, judging from past experience, it might take a long time to report, and it also might be an expensive undertaking. What I am absolutely certain about—and my hon. Friend made this suggestion as well—is that there is an urgent necessity for field trials and longer-term ecological research.

I also think that there is a clear need for more co-ordination. Yesterday, in reply to two Quesions of my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. Eden), the Parliamentary Secretary told the House that the Medical Research Council is already carrying out research, and has been doing so for several years, that the Agricultural Research Council is carrying out research and that the Nature Conservancy is planning to carry out research. I am given to understand unofficially that a field station may be set up and we also know that the most important manufacturers are carrying out research. Furthermore, there is some coordination in this work by an interdepartmental advisory committee.

I am well aware of all these things, and I am not trying to attempt, any more than my hon. Friend attempted, to say that nothing has been done, but I am absolutely convinced—and the more I look into the matter the more convinced I become—that there is a real and urgent need for the co-ordination of further research, both long-term and short-term.

My hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Mr. Braine), who is unable to be here today made an excellent speech on this subject. I thought he made out a very convincing case. In reply to him, my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary used words to the effect that what was needed was more research, more education and more advice. My comment is that the Ministry has undertaken a good deal of education on a growing scale in the last few years, that plenty of advice has been forthcoming, but that there has definitely been too little research.

This is a very complicated subject. I have here an article which I tore out of the British Farmer, dated 5th September. It is headed "The use of poisonous substances in agriculture." The article contains no less than 28 injunctions to employers and employees which have to be carefully followed if serious risks are to be avoided. Although I have great admiration for farmers and farm workers, who returned me to the House with such a handsome majority, I very much doubt whether they can be expected to have the technical knowledge to handle all these poisonous substances with safety.

The article states: Among the chemicals now in use in agriculture and horticulture are some that are so toxic that unless handled with care fatal poisoning may occur. As I have said, this is a very complicated subject, and I am sure that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will be the first to agree with that, because his Ministry regularly issues detailed warnings to farmers on exactly how these substances should be used.

In the last few days, since my hon. Friend was kind enough to ask me to second the Motion, I have been trying to assemble all the evidence possible on this subject. I found a powerful piece of evidence in the News Chronicle of 10th October. This morning, I was in touch with the journalist who wrote this report. I should like briefly to read a few extracts from it. Incidentally, I understand that this report is based on some informal meetings recently set up by the Council for Nature. This is what the report says: Chemists, doctors, animal and plant breeders, and naturalists produced evidence at a series of conferences in the last fortnight to prove that the harm caused already by indiscriminate use of chemical sprays may be irreparable. … Birds and insects which prey on the insect pests, and bees which are vital to fruit and other crops, are all being killed by indiscriminate spraying. … If scientists have their way the Government will prohibit the use of chemical sprays that are now known to be injuring human beings. Other sprays will be permitted only during those months when animal life is not likely to be endangered. Hormones instead of chemical poisons will be used in future in insecticides.1 I should like to interject that one of the pieces of advice given in the Zuckerman Report was that the use or hormone sprays might involve danger to livestock. I understand that some of these hormone sprays make ragwort and other weeds very "tasty"—I think this is the word used in the Zuckerman Report. We have to be very careful about these things.

The News Chronicle article concludes: The Government will be asked to investigate the theory that the insect pests are developing immunity to sprays. The scientists believe that because of this immunity 22 of the chemicals now being used on farms are killing plants, poisoning animals—but leaving untouched the creatures for whom they were intended. I believe that to be a responsible Report based on scientific study groups, and the House should take careful note of it.

I also noticed in The Times of 20th October a letter from the honorary secretary of Council for Nature. If the House will forgive me I will read this letter, because this is the kind of evidence from experts which is much more valuable than any views which I may hold: The annual general meeting of the Council for Nature, held on October 8, passed a resolution which welcomed the public-spirited action of a large firm of manufacturers in withdrawing their supplies of an arsenical spray, urged that the use of arsenical sprays should be prohibited or restricted forthwith, and asked that the Government and their agencies should give high priority to research into the long-term effect of toxic sprays on the complex associations of wild plants and animals, including the birds and insects, which inhabit the British countryside. This Council represents thousands of naturalists all over the United Kingdom.

I also took from The Times an amusing report about a serious matter, headed, "The Cranberry Scare in America." I will not read an extract from this, but my recollection is that only two or three weeks ago the Secretary for Health, as I think he is called, in the United States, at a Press conference announced that poisoned cranberries were on the market. This was only a few weeks before Thanksgiving Day, which was very unfortunate for the housewives of America. He said that cranberries, particularly from the States of Oregon and Washington, had been sprayed with a particular spray which might be very dangerous indeed.

When I checked on this subject I found that a similar spray, containing very similar chemicals, is widely used in this country for spraying mustard, particularly in Norfolk. The last thing I should try to do is to introduce any scare talk into a serious subject like this, and I hope that people will not stop eating mustard, because I believe that there is probably nothing in this suggestion from the point of view of personal health. It was even shown in the United States that the Secretary for Health might possibly have exaggerated the danger from the use of this spray. Nevertheless, it was a scare, and it is the kind of thing which ought to be avoided. It certainly seems to tend in the same direction—to show that more research is necessary.

Next, I should like to mention that the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, on the Council of which I have sat for more than ten years, is extremely anxious about this problem and has been anxious about it for a number of years. The Parliamentary Secretary will recollect that we have been in correspondence about this and that in the Society we have been trying to assemble all the evidence we can. It is not very easy without field trials, to assemble sufficient evidence, because it is a very unrewarding business to walk about the undergrowth looking for small birds which have died possibly as a result of picking up contaminated seed.

The British Trust for Ornithology shares the views of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. I received a letter two days ago from the British Field Sports Society, the chairman of which is my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. J. Morrison), also expressing anxiety. The Nature Conservancy is very much in favour of more research and of field trials, as we have been told.

My last piece of evidence is the Zuckerman Report itself, to which my hon. Friend made several references. I should like to read from paragraph 83 (xvii) of the Third Report: Finally, our enquiries have clearly shown how great are the gaps in our knowledge of the effects which the toxic chemicals used in agriculture may have on wild life, not to mention the possible consequential effects upon successful crop cultivation; and our pilot observations have indicated how well justified further field studies would be. There is a pressing need for more fundamental research. I feel sure that the Parliamentary Secretary will take very careful note of that paragraph which, I know, he must have studied very carefully as he has studied the whole Report. I cannot but add that I regard it as most regrettable that that particular piece of advice was not taken.

In conclusion, I should like to congratulate my hon. Friend on an admirable, effective and constructive speech on a subject which is undoubtedly of widespread importance. I particularly hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to tell us that the Ministry recognises that this problem which was serious a few years ago is now more serious, and that he agrees with the views expressed by my hon. Friend and myself that there is an urgent and overwhelming case for more research, both short-term and long-term.

3.41 p.m.

Photo of Mr Henry Hynd Mr Henry Hynd , Accrington

May I from this side of the House offer congratulations to the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) on having successfully met all the ideal requirements of a maiden speech?

I want to draw the attention of the House to one aspect of this matter which has not yet been mentioned, and that is the effect on water supplies in reservoirs. Since May, 1958, I have been in correspondence with the Ministry of Housing and Local Government on a case where these sprays were being used for agricultural purposes in the catchment area of a reservoir.

There was at least suspicion that the water was being contaminated. The Ministry was consulted, and the only advice it could offer was that the water board concerned should put in culverts to divert the field drains from the reservoir. When the board went into it, it was found that it would be cheaper to buy thirty acres of the field concerned, which was done. This is an unsatisfactory state of affairs, because it means that any farmer by that method can force a water board to buy ground which it does not want to purchase. In this case, the farmer refused to cease using the toxic weed killers and insecticides in the catchment area, and that was the unfortunate result.

The Institution of Water Engineers has been concerned with this subject and published an article about it in its journal. The Minister told me in June this year that inquiries are being made and a panel of experts was about to be set up. I do not know whether that panel has been set up; perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will tell me that today.

Since then, I have heard of another recent case in which a reservoir had actually to be emptied because of this same cause. It is obvious that this aspect wants looking into. Yesterday, the Parliamentary Secretary said that he had no power to ban the agricultural use of these chemicals. I am not sure that I want him to ban their use. I happen to have a constituency interest in this matter, because there is a firm in my constituency which has a quite profitable industry in making some of these substances, including a valuable export industry for the rubber fields in Malaya. We do not want to stop that if it can possibly be avoided.

What is the situation now? As I understand it, there is this voluntary notification scheme operating in conjunction with the agricultural chemical industry and the Advisory Committee on Poisonous Substances used in Agriculture and Food Storage, which was mentioned by the hon. and gallant Member for Lewes (Colonel Beamish), and last week the Minister told us that he would shortly be making a statement on the whole subject. Can the Parliamentary Secretary make that statement today, or tell us when the Minister will make it?

It is quite possible that these substances are very necessary—or, at least, desirable—for the promotion of agriculture both at home and abroad. That is why I think that the proposed commission of inquiry should not start off with the idea that they need necessarily be completely prohibited. However, sufficient has been said to show that there is a very strong case for setting up such a commission of inquiry, and I have very great pleasure in supporting the request for one.

3.45 p.m.

Photo of Mr John Eden Mr John Eden , Bournemouth West

Since the hour is so late, it is perhaps regrettable that once again the public will be denied the great oratorical masterpiece that took me until late last night to prepare. I shall therefore throw my notes aside and simply reinforce the plea so eloquently made by my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) and by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lewes (Colonel Beamish).

I ask the Parliamentary Secretary and his colleagues at the Ministry to treat this as a serious and urgent matter. No one is trying to raise alarm and despondency at all, but there is enough evidence to give cause for concern and to warrant investigation of some of these delayed action poisonous sprays such as DDT—and there are others. The organo-phosphorus sprays are even more dangerous, and serious consideration should be given to the need for conducting long-term research into the cumulative effect of these sprays on human, plant and animal life.

I would ask my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary also to give some consideration to those long-term experiments already being conducted, which have produced some extremely revealing results on this and related subjects.

3.46 p.m.

Photo of Mr Frederick Willey Mr Frederick Willey , Sunderland North

I am sure the House would wish the Parliamentary Secretary to have an opportunity to reply, so I will confine myself to the very pleasant task of congratulating the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) on his well-prepared, pleasantly-delivered and well-informed maiden speech; and say that I am completely in accord with him, and I hope that he will help to preserve that accord in his later contributions.

3.47 p.m.

Photo of Mr Joseph Godber Mr Joseph Godber , Grantham

I, too, should like to join in the chorus of congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member far Harborough (Mr. Farr). We were all very much interested in his very carefully thought out and well-delivered speech on a subject on which he obviously feels keenly. The whole House is grateful to him, and we shall look forward very much to his further contributions to our debates.

Only on one occasion did he tend to become controversial. I thought at one time that he was about to ask me to ban haggis. When one considers the composition of the House, that would, I think, be a controversial subject—

Photo of Mr Tufton Beamish Mr Tufton Beamish , Lewes

Is it not a poisonous substance?

Photo of Mr Joseph Godber Mr Joseph Godber , Grantham

I confess that that passed my mind, but I am only too glad not to comment on such a dangerous subject.

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing this subject forward, and I am only sorry that the time available is not sufficient for us to go at all fully into this important matter. I sympathise with hon. Members who have spoken, obviously much more briefly than they otherwise would have done, on the subject, but I shall try to put the matter in perspective.

I agree that we cannot give too much attention to matters that may affect the nation's health and well-being. The use by farmers of toxic chemicals on food crops has given rise to a lot of uneasiness, and the use of these substances should be discussed, not only so that the facts may be examined but in order to keep things in proper focus.

The authorities should not be pressed into action which the facts do not justify, and we must be mindful of the interests of the public at large and also of any section of it. Hon. Members will appreciate that chemical sprays play a most valuable part in agricultural production and in improving the quality of produce marketed. The use of chemicals on the present scale reflects the success of workers in many fields in helping to solve the problems of growers. We all know that that problem is to produce enough food of the right kind and of the right quality, which the consumer demands and is entitled to expect. To say this is not to admit that no curb or restriction is ever to be placed on the scientist or on the merchant, or, indeed, on the grower.

Manufacturers are constantly striving to produce and contractors and farmers to use less toxic chemicals that will do the job. Only this morning, I received some interesting figures to show that one of the largest firms concerned in this business has been seeking progressively over the last few years to get a smaller and smaller percentage of spray work done with these poisonous substances. I find that their main research effort over the past five years has been in finding safe products to replace some of the more poisonous ones. This research has cost up to £¼ million a year. Happily, it is meeting with a measure of success. Several poisonous chemicals have been replaced by new products which are perfectly safe and effective as weed killers and insecticides. It is by no means true that all existing products are harmful—

Photo of Mr John Eden Mr John Eden , Bournemouth West

For whom are these new products safe?

Photo of Mr Joseph Godber Mr Joseph Godber , Grantham

For humans, and animal and bird life.

The percentage of the acreage which one company has sprayed over the last few years with dangerous substances has dropped from over 5 per cent. of the total sprayed to 3½ per cent. The company tells me that it expects to see this reduced again next year and hopes to see the harmful type of insecticide eliminated altogether from its range in a matter of one or two years.

This is to put the matter in perspective, and it is not unimportant that these facts should be brought to the notice of hon. Members. Having said that, I do not deny that there is a problem at present. The Zuckerman Working Party's Report on Residues of Toxic Chemicals in Food, issued in 1953, suggested a voluntary scheme whereby manufacturers and distributors would notify proposals for the use of new toxic substances or new uses of existing chemicals. These would be examined and recommendations would be made by an inter-Departmental advisory committee. Such a scheme, in which the Government and the agricultural chemical industry are equal partners, was brought into being in 1954 and has been working ever since.

At its heart is the Advisory Committee, which comprises administrators and scientists drawn from the Health and Agricultural Departments, the Medical and Agricultural Research Councils, the Board of Trade, the Government Chemist's Department and the Nature Conservancy. Its terms of reference cover risks to operators, to consumers, to farm animals and wild life. We have it in mind to augment the Committee still further by appointing eminent independent members in the fields of medicine, agriculture, chemistry and nature conservancy. The main business of the Committee is to consider reports and recommendations from its scientific subcommittee on notifications submitted by the manufacturers.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harborough referred particularly to a very unfortunate incident, and to the use of arsenites. These are used in agriculture mainly for weed killing and primarily, perhaps, for the destruction of potato haulm. They are also used as ingredients in some sheep and cattle dips. These arsenites should be distinguished from the less toxic lead arsenate which has been used for many years as a spray on fruit trees. The use or arsenites for destroying potato haulms is of comparatively recent origin. As my hon. Friend said, it came into large-scale use when there was a world shortage of sulphuric acid, but let no one think that sulphuric acid is not dangerous unless it is very carefully handled. There is the difficulty with all chemicals that one has to weigh up the relative disadvantages of their use.

As my right hon. Friend recently informed the House in reply to Questions, he has received the recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Poisonous Substances Used in Agriculture and Food Storage, and is discussing them with the industry. The consultations have now reached an advanced stage. This week my right hon. Friend has discussed the matter with representatives of the Association of British Chemical Manufacturers, the Association of British Manufacturers of Agricultural Chemicals, the Association of British Sheep and Cattle Dip Manufacturers, the National Association of Corn and Agricultural Merchants, the National Farmers' Union, the National Association of Agricultural Contractors and the British Chemical Dyestuffs and Traders Association (Importers). So we have been going into this matter in every way possible with the people concerned.

As a result, the most urgent consideration is being given to the points raised at the meeting and my right hon. Friend hopes to make a statement soon. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Accrington (Mr. H. Hynd) asked if I could make one now. I am not in a position to do so, but that does not mean that my right hon. Friend is not very much seized of the urgency of this matter. In passing, may I say that, as the use of arsenites is seasonal, the likelihood of use over the next few months is nil, so there is time for the matter to be properly considered?

Photo of Mr Frederick Willey Mr Frederick Willey , Sunderland North

On that point, will the Joint Parliamentary Secretary assure us that there will be full publication of the findings so that the public can feel reassured not only about the position but about the steps the Government are taking?

Photo of Mr Joseph Godber Mr Joseph Godber , Grantham

My right hon. Friend will make a full statement on the decisions reached and will give the reasons why he has come to those decisions, so there will be ample opportunity for hon. Members to take up the matter. The best thing is to see the statement which my right hon. Friend will make. I have never yet known the hon. Gentleman to be inhibited about asking questions. The recommendations of the Advisory Committee are normally looked on as confidential, so I have some difficulty in going further than that at the moment.

My right hon. Friend has been discussing these matters with his right hon. and noble Friend the Minister for Science and his right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Health. They are proposing to consider sympathetically whether more research work should be done on the general aspect. They propose, therefore, to arrange for a small group of scientists to review the situation and to make proposals as to whether more research work generally is necessary. I would have liked to have had more time to answer the debate, but I am glad to be able to give the House this information.

I realise the keen interest taken by hon. Members not only in the aspect of human health but also in that of wild life. Both my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lewes (Col. Beamish) and my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. Eden) are particularly interested in the need to safeguard wild life, especially birds, and the proposed review might be valuable in this respect. I hope this information will be of some comfort to my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough.

Our declared aim is to maintain our present efforts to safeguard all interests; to refuse to be rushed into action which could not be justified by experience or logic; to encourage by all means in our power the establishment of an ever firmer and broader foundation of our knowledge on these matters; and to continue to do all we can to prevent hazards from the use of toxic chemicals in agriculture.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harborough asked us to set up a Royal Commission. The hon. Member who seconded the Motion made it clear that he was not wholeheartedly behind the suggestion for a Commission. We all know in this House how long it takes for Royal Commissions to report. It is not because we are against careful investigation that I say we should find it difficult to set up a Royal Commission. I hope, however, that what I have said, in the very little time I have had to say it, indicates that we do not take this matter lightly and that we are—

It being Four o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.