Control of Pesticides etc.

Part of Orders of the Day — Food and Environment Protection Bill [Lords] – in the House of Commons at 3:46 pm on 26th June 1985.

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Photo of Mr Richard Body Mr Richard Body , Holland with Boston 3:46 pm, 26th June 1985

I always want to be helpful to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, and I hope that she will think that by tabling amendment No. 56 I am being so. She gave an impressive television performance recently in which, in answer to a journalist, Penny Junor, in a programme on Thames Television, she said that when regulations come out, it is her wish that all the details will be available. I hope that we can move in that direction. I am not suggesting by my amendment that we should have all the details, but we can go a little further in trying to reconcile the interests of the public and those of the manufacturers.

I had a discussion with the director of the British Agrochemicals Association only yesterday. He assured me that he supported my amendment, which goes rather further than that on which my hon. Friend is anxious that the House should agree.

It must be in the interests of the public to be able to see the data submitted by the manufacturer about the safety of the pesticides and their effect on the environment. When I speak of the public, I put in a word for our working farmers, who deal every day with pesticides. There is growing anxiety among them about the pesticides and to what extent they should use certain of them. That anxiety is increased when they read about how other countries forbid the use of the very pesticides that they are using. Therefore, it is right that a small organisation with which I am associated, the Smallfarmers Association, should have access to the data in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and then be able to engage its own scientists to investigate that data to see to what extent the testing has been carried out satisfactorily.

Equally, it is in the interests of the manufacturers that rivals, particularly countries such as Korea and Thailand, which are getting into the pesticide business, should not be guilty of piracy. Therefore, my amendment is couched in such a way as to ensure that there can be no piracy, nor any danger to any manufacturer. I would welcome my hon. Friend's comments on that. That would enable those concerned, either on behalf of farmers or environmental lobbies—even doctors, because many of them are concerned about this—to have access to the data so that they can assess it.

My hon. Friend may say that it is intended to produce monographs on these different pesticides that will give a summary of the data, but that will not be enough. I am sure that she will realise that. They will not recite the methodology or the kinds of tests that have been carried out, nor will they give details of the sorts of animals that have been used.

My hon. Friend knows that the tests on these pesticides are almost entirely carried out on rats and mice. If the pesticide is mutagenic, we must know whether the tests have been carried out for at least two years on three generations of rats and mice. One will not know whether a pesticide is mutagenic unless such data are given.

I understand that what is made available by the Ministry will not include that information. If a pesticide is carcinogenic, the tests must be carried out for a certain time. We must also question whether, if it is carcinogenic in respect of rats or mice, it will be the same on humans. I do not want to repeat the thalidomide story, but that was tested on rats and was perfectly satisfactory, yet we know only too well what the effect was on humans.

There is a question mark over the use of only rats or mice when testing such pesticides. The public should therefore be told what animals are being used so that they can judge the extent to which the tests are valid.

I stress that, because in the United States, as my hon. Friend knows only too well, people are beginning to realise that by themselves tests on rats and mice are not sufficient and that other tests should be carried out. The Minister and I know that a number of pesticides have been called into question in the United States and will now be prohibited, yet their use will still be allowed in this country. Is there a difference in testing between the United States and the United Kingdom? How will we know if all we are to get are monographs? Will they contain the kind of information that will be sufficient to enable people to pass their own independent judgment?

My hon. Friend will be familiar with the name of Professor A. E. M. McLean, who until recently was a member of the scientific sub-committee of the Government's own Advisory Committee on Pesticides. I hope that his views will not be dismissed as those of a crank but will be acknowledged as the views of someone who has had an inside knowledge of the subject. Professor McLean was joint author of a book entitled "Safety Testing of New Drugs. Laboratory Predictions and Clinical Performance", which was published only last year. He said: the ordinary criterion of scientific reliability (that the results are reproducible in other laboratories) does not operate". He added: When the methodology of conventional test procedures is discussed it becomes evident that quite small differences in procedure can have large effects on the outcome, and so on the inferences which may be drawn from them". 4 pm

The Parliamentary Secretary will appreciate, therefore, that the summaries will be useless to the public, to farmers and to the members of environmental groups and others who want to probe these issues unless they have some understanding of the methodology and what led up to the data being provided. Unless that information is forthcoming, we shall not satisfactorily solve the problem.

Let us suppose that the boot were on the other foot and a manufacturer, having produced a new type of pesticide, had to have it tested by an agency of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Let us suppose that the Ministry then published only a summary of the data, such as that which my hon. Friend has in mind. What, then, would be the feelings of the manufacturer? Say that the new pesticide was condemned by the Ministry and the manufacturer was not permitted to obtain the full data comparable to what I have in mind should be disclosed to the general public. The manufacturer would be in an impossible position.

The United States has its Freedom of Information Act. We have the chance now to go to Washington and find out the full details of how the same pesticides have been tested in that country. Indeed, officers of Friends of the Earth tell me that they have been to America and seen the very data that they will not be allowed to see in Britain.

I fear that the Government's not allowing the same information to be available here—remembering that we are concerned with circumstances in which some pesticides forbidden in the United States will be permitted here—will cause ugly statements to be made, and such a state of affairs will not be helpful to anyone.

I hope, therefore, that the Minister will give careful consideration to my amendment No. 56 and will agree that, if it is right that people in the US should have this information, it is right for the people of Britain to have it. It is wrong that we should have to cross the Atlantic and go to Washington to get the sort of information that should be available to us here. If it is not made available, the worst suspicions will be aroused, and I fear that we in Parliament will not do well as a result.