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 Mrs Peggy Fenner Mrs Peggy Fenner , Medway 3:46 pm, 26th June 1985

I welcome the acceptance of the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John) of amendments Nos. 21 and 22 and the motives of the Government in tabling them. The amendments make clear the purpose of the Bill. Concern has been expressed that the purpose should be made clearer, and that the amendments seek to do. I understand that hon. Members will scrutinise the regulations carefully to be sure that they live up to that objective.

I apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston (Mr. Body). I had intended to refer to amendment No. 26 to try to prevent a misunderstanding of the kind which has arisen in the mind of the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes). I am glad that the hon. Member for Pontypridd understands what we are trying to do.

The amendment to clause 15(2)(j) is a technical one to enable Ministers to recover the costs of copying and postage, if necessary, from those who request information about pesticides. The Government's intention is to provide in part III a measure similar to that already contained in the last three lines of paragraph 13 of part II. Parliamentary counsel have drafted the amendment with some care to ensure that the provision covers only the incidental costs of providing copies of the document. I assure the Committee that this will not have the effect of inhibiting the public's access to information. Equally, we must not run the risk of becoming an unlimited source of free material at public expense.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston, who has tried to table an amendment that meets the needs of all concerned with disclosure of information. Amendment No. 56 is admirably drafted, but it has one serious disadvantage from the Government's point of view. The amendment does not provide for the release of raw data, but our advice is that Ministers will be constrained to provide access to raw data to anybody who requests it. I explained in Committee that it would involve great administrative effort and that the advantage would in practice be small. The amendment would prevent the provision of summaries of data.

4.30 pm

I have already explained that summaries have been prepared for the meeting of the advisory committee. They include methodology, details of tests, the different kinds of animals and periods of time. Carcinogenicity, mutagenicity and teratogenicity are described in the summaries, and the questions surrounding pesticides are also listed. Therefore, I assure him that the summaries include all the details that he said are not included. They are lengthy, amounting to about 20 pages.

The Freedom of Information Campaign agrees with the Government that the summaries would satisfy the overwhelming majority of inquiries. The raw data on each approved product stand about 3 ft high. It would be a waste of time and effort to make that information available to everybody. Access to raw data may be of use to those engaged in research, and we are prepared to consider granting access to it if a scientific case can be established. We shall discuss the matter when we consult all the relevant interests about the proposals.

The Bill would not prevent either this Government or any other Government from providing access to raw data. I have explained the problem of providing an extreme degree of public access to raw data. My hon. Friend's amendment constrains Ministers to provide access to raw data to anybody who requests it. I hope that I have reassured him about the contents of the summaries and that he will therefore withdraw his amendment.

The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey made a serious point about lemons in London. The pesticide residue working group survey found that lemons in London have exceeded the codex limit of 10 parts per million. Between 1981 and 1984 the level occasionally found was 18 ppm. However, hon. Members who consume large quantities of gin and tonic are much more likely to contract cirrhosis of the liver and to be put at risk than they are if they consume lemons.