Organochlorine Pesticides (Wilson Report)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 17th December 1969.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Cledwyn Hughes Mr Cledwyn Hughes , Anglesey 12:00 am, 17th December 1969

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I would like to make a statement about the further review of persistent organochlorine pesticides.

The Report of the Advisory Committee on Pesticides and other Toxic Chemicals is published today and copies are available in the Vote Office. My right hon. Friends and I are most grateful to Professor Andrew Wilson and his colleagues for their work in this complex field.

The committee concludes that, although a number of persistent chemicals are present in the environment, there is no evidence that this has adverse effects on man. Nevertheless, the presence of these chemicals such as dieldrin, aldrin and D.D.T., even in low concentrations, is undesirable. The committee recommends the withdrawal as soon as practicable of certain current uses of these chemicals for which adequate alternative and less persistent chemicals are available.

The Government accept these recommendations. We shall implement those relating to agriculture, horticulture, food storage, home gardens and kitchens, in the co-operation with the industry, through the Safety Precautions Scheme. I am glad to say that manufacturers and users have assured me of their co-operation.

The main changes are as follows. As proposed in the report, aldrin, dieldrin and D.D.T. will be withdrawn from use on a number of crops. D.D.T. will not be sold in small packs to the home gardener. Dieldrin and D.D.T. will be withdrawn from certain uses in food storage and in the home kitchen and larder. I hope that these uses will be phased out by the end of next year.

On certain other uses of these chemicals in hygiene and public health, timber preservation and the commercial moth proofing of wood, the committee recommends that further studies and surveys are required. This will be done.

The committee also recommends that, after the action which I have announced has been taken, all the remaining uses of these chemicals covered by the Pesticides Safety Precautions Scheme should be kept under review, so that, wherever possible, they can be replaced by less persistent chemicals. This also will be done.

Photo of Mr James Stodart Mr James Stodart , Edinburgh West

There is no doubt, as the right hon. Gentleman has said, that this is a complex matter. We shall certainly study the report with considerable interest. Meantime, I ask three questions.

First, which are the commodities and foods in which dieldrin, aldrin and D.D.T. are most likely to be found?

Secondly, although, as I said when the Minister made his announcement on the Swann Report, economic considerations must always take second place to any health aspect, is the withdrawal of these chemicals likely to lead to any fall in productivity and consequent increase in costs?

Thirdly, do the Government propose to stop the import of food in the production of which these chemicals have been used, to prevent the British consumer from suffering adverse effects which this restriction on home producers is intended to stop, and also to prevent the British producer from being placed at a disadvantage in our own market?

Photo of Mr Cledwyn Hughes Mr Cledwyn Hughes , Anglesey

The amount in foodstuffs is very small indeed, and it is in those foodstuffs where D.D.T. is used as a pesticide. I will not give the House the list; it is a long one. If the hon. Gentleman will study the report he will see the foodstuffs involved.

On the question of costs, the committee has rightly taken the view that it should first consider the alternatives before recommending a restriction on the use of pesticides. Because of this approach, the cost to the horticultural and agricultural industry should be very small.

As to imports, there is already a marked trend away from organochlorine pesticides in developed countries, and we already have legislation safeguarding the food we eat. Recent surveys in the United Kingdom to determine the actual levels of residues in the whole diet and in specific foodstuffs has shown these levels to be reassuringly low. In 1966–67, the amount of D.D.T. used in Britain was 200 tons. In the United States it was 27,000 tons.

Photo of Mrs Joyce Butler Mrs Joyce Butler , Wood Green

Will my right hon. Friend consider publishing this highly technical report in layman's language with some guidance as to safer alternatives for use by housewives, gardeners and farmers so that they can act as their own watchdogs?

Why has not my right hon. Friend imposed an outright ban on D.D.T., as other countries have done, in view of the appalling way it spreads through the environment from its original source?

Photo of Mr Cledwyn Hughes Mr Cledwyn Hughes , Anglesey

I shall be glad to consider my hon. Friend's suggestion about a simple guide, because the report is very complex, as she says.

Several other countries have announced restrictions on D.D.T., but most countries are keeping it for those uses that they consider vital. Our approach to these pesticides is based on the best scientific advice for our situation.

Photo of Mr James Davidson Mr James Davidson , Aberdeenshire West

Can the Minister give the House an assurance that satisfactory progress has been made with the development of alternative chemicals which will be equally effective, if less potentially dangerous, for agricultural, horticultural and domestic use?

Photo of Mr Cledwyn Hughes Mr Cledwyn Hughes , Anglesey

The committee examined the use of each pesticide with very great care and with particular attention to this point before making its recommendations. For example, the committee recommends that D.D.T. should not be used for the control of aphids—that is, green fly of various varieties—because proven alternatives are available and offer better control. The alternatives are elaborate and differ from case to case. I refer the hon. Gentleman to the report, because it would take too long for me to go into detail.

Photo of Mr Alf Morris Mr Alf Morris , Manchester Wythenshawe

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the prompt action he has taken in this as in other matters. Are his decisions fully consistent with what is being done in other countries?

Photo of Mr Cledwyn Hughes Mr Cledwyn Hughes , Anglesey

Yes, Sir. The committee emphasises that its recommendations are based on its assessment of the situation in this country alone. Conditions of climate, public health, hygiene and agriculture in other countries may make the use of these pesticides very much more desirable. For example, in tropical countries with high mortality from insect-borne disease and food damage by pests the advantages of these pesticides may well outweigh the disadvantages.

Photo of Mr James Scott-Hopkins Mr James Scott-Hopkins , West Derbyshire

I welcome what the Minister has said. It will put into proportion some of the rumours which have been circulating about the dangers of these substances. Do the Government intend to take any measures to supervise the existing measures?

What are the Government doing to ensure that we do not import foods which have been grown with the use of these chemicals? What checks are there abroad and at our ports?

Photo of Mr Cledwyn Hughes Mr Cledwyn Hughes , Anglesey

Again, the report covers the whole diet, including imported foods. There is a reference to this on page 16 of the report. I am advised that there is no case for discontinuing imports on the grounds of health hazards. I would refer the hon. Gentleman to Appendix VI of the report.

Photo of Mr Tom Driberg Mr Tom Driberg , Barking

Without indulging in unscientific generalisations, can we say that we ought perhaps to be a little more sceptical about the quickly boosted miracles of science and technology?

Photo of Mr Cledwyn Hughes Mr Cledwyn Hughes , Anglesey

I think that we should admire the advances that are being made in the scientific and techological fields, but the machinery which the Government have set up ensures that the public are protected against a too quick use of these new discoveries. The important thing is that we should take action in these matters, as the Government have done, where there is a likelihood of danger. The action we have taken is preventative and curative.

Several Hon. Members:

Several Hon. Members rose

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

Order. Mr. Ennals. Statement.

Photo of Mr John Temple Mr John Temple , City of Chester

On a point of order. The Minister, in making his statement, said that copies of the report of the committee were available in the Vote Office. No doubt they were available, but they were not available to hon. Members.

I seek your guidance, Mr. Speaker, because in these extraordinarily technical matters it is difficult to frame a sensible question if the report in question is not available.

I respectfully submit that in these circumstance it might be very much more helpful to hon. Members on both sides if, in advance of a statement being made, copies of a report of this technical nature were available to hon. Members so that they could ask more intelligent questions.

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

I thought that the questions were intelligent. I imagine that the Minister, when he announced that copies of the report were in the Vote Office, thought that they would be there. Their absence may be connected in some way with the dispute—I do not know.

Photo of Mr James Scott-Hopkins Mr James Scott-Hopkins , West Derbyshire

Further to that point of order. The White Paper referred to is in the Vote Office, but, on the Minister's order, it was not allowed to be released. I support the submission made by my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Mr. Temple) that papers which are so technical as this one should be released a quarter of an hour, 20 minutes, or half an hour, before the Minister is due to make his statement.

Photo of Mr Cledwyn Hughes Mr Cledwyn Hughes , Anglesey

Further to that point of order. It was my clear understanding that copies of the report were available in the Vote Office at 11 o'clock this morning. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] If that was not the case, I apologise to hon. Members on both sides, because I agree that this is a complex matter. I will make inquiries.

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

I am sure that the House will accept the Minister's statement.

Photo of Mr James Stodart Mr James Stodart , Edinburgh West

I attempted to get a copy of the report and was told that it was not to be available until the Minister had made his statement.