I apologise in advance for the fact that I shall have to leave at 4.15 to attend a meeting of the Public Accounts Committee, where I wish to deal with an important item on the agenda. I shall then return to the Chamber, but I may miss the Minister's speech in reply to this amendment.
Like the hon. Member for Holland with Boston (Mr. Body), I fear that the Bill, in the way in which it will be amended, will not clarify the position and may, instead, disguise the intention of the Government. The result will be that the public will be denied information about pesticides. The Government amendment contains the words
with a view to making information about pesticides available to the public".
What it does not say, but should say—because that is the intention—is that it will be restricted information. All the information available to the Department will not be made available to the public. In Committee, the Parliamentary Secretary said:
I assure the Committee that we shall seek to ensure that the public will have every opportunity to judge for themselves whether the Government have reached a reasonable decision about a chemical … information will not be kept under wraps unnecessarily.
Who will decide on what is unnecessarily being kept under wraps? Will it not be the Department? It is unreasonable that those who wish access to information will be denied the right to determine whether something should be made available. A bureaucrat will take the decision.
It was clear from the debate in Committee that there are divisions of opinion about what should constitute information being "kept under wraps unnecessarily." The Government are totally misreading the representations of Campaign for Freedom of Information, the environmental groups and all others interested in these issues. They are demanding that full information be made available.
In Committee, the Minister said:
it is our intention to ensure that the information released will enable an informed judgment to be made by the public".—[Official Report, Standing Committee H, 30 April 1985; c. 334.]
What does the Minister regard as an "informed judgment"? What she regards as an informed judgment may not be what environmental groups and researchers believe it to be. All the time we are leaving subjective judgments to be made by officials who make recommendations to Ministers. The Minister is misreading the sense of environmental outrage that is felt by the public on this issue.
We dealt at length in Committee with the position in America. I pointed out that the Environmental Protection Agency there found that IBT—Industrial Biotest Laboratories — had fabricated data. Some of those studies were submitted in the United Kingdom and were accepted by the Advisory Committee on Pesticides, and decisions were taken based on the ACP's recommendations. The same officials will decide to what extent information should be restricted.
The Minister should take on board the American experience and ensure that United Kingdom researchers are given full access to information. After all, often no alternative information about hazards is available.
That information should be available, for example, to those concerned with the effects of pesticides on their employees and to persons affected by spraying. Otherwise, it will be difficult for them to obtain information relevant to the problems with which they must deal and with which doctors are concerned. Indeed, medical practitioners may wish to research into the effects of certain products. They should not be denied information which is available to the Department but which will be under lock and key.
The full disclosure of safety data under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rhodenticide Act in America works well. FIFRA has shown that it is possible to combine full disclosure with the protection of commercial interests. The amendment standing in the name of the hon. Member for Holland with Boston would not alter a company's indefinite right to the exclusive use of such data.
To deny information on the ground that the public is not competent to make correct use of it is unacceptable. The British Agrochemical Association accepts the principle of "the right to know." Disclosure would increase public confidence, prevent amateur research being carried out by other organisations and, to some extent, prevent the need for duplication of research. Public anxiety increases when people are denied the facts.
Even at this late stage, the Parliamentary Secretary, should heed the substantial representations that are being made by people inside and outside the House. In particular, she should heed the remarks of her hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston, who has great knowledge of these matters. He is in contact, through an organisation representing small farmers with which he is associated, with many people in Britain who are involved with the use of pesticides. I am sure that he brings to the House through that association the value of their experience.
All Committee Members received persistent demands from a number of organisations to set up a more open regime with respect to freedom of information. The Parliamentary Secretary must respond to those demands and be fair.