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

The Government cannot accept this amendment, which singles out one sector of the community for right to compensation in law. Such a provision might prejudice the position of others, if they found themselves in dispute with users of pesticides.

The proper course of action for such grievances is to seek redress in the courts, and I know from a recent case that aggrieved beekeepers have been successful in such actions. The case to which I refer was brought to court before we introduced this legislation to enable Ministers to control use of statute. In finding against the farmer, the judge relied on the considerable advice already made available to users of pesticides both from my Department and from the pesticide manufacturer about the effects of pesticides on bees. I shall explain the action taken by my Department in this area.

4.45 pm

When pesticides intended for use in agriculture are submitted for clearance under the PSPS, information on their toxicity to bees is invariably taken into account. By their very nature most insecticides are toxic to bees to a greater or lesser extent; but an unacceptable level of risk would in itself be sufficient grounds for denying a particular clearance. Such decisions have been taken in the past. The withdrawal of clearance in 1978 for the aerial application of triazophos to oilseed rape was such a case. Cleared products may carry labels with warning phrases, such as "Dangerous/harmful to bees. Do not apply at flowering stage. Keep down flowering weeds."

To back up the warnings on product labels, my Department provides a great deal of advice to farmers and growers about the use of these pesticides. We give warnings on the general incidence of pest attack and the circumstances in which spraying should be, or is unlikely to be, cost-effective. When we advise that spraying is worth while we recommend farmers to use wherever practicable pesticides that are least toxic to bees, to spray early in the morning or late in the evening, when bee activity is minimal, and generally to take care and to think of others when spraying. We issue a considerable amount of publicity' literature. All this is supplemented by advice to individual farmers.

Furthermore, our scientists are ready to investigate any incidents involving the suspected poisoning of bees by pesticides whenever the beekeeper concerned is able to provide a sample of the bees for chemical analysis. The Ministry also arranges meetings at both the national and the local level between representatives of the National Farmers Union, the beekeepers associations and spraying contractors. Our objective is to get the people involved to discuss common problems and to agree on the measures necessary to prevent bee losses from crop spraying. I believe that advice, consultation and communication are the best way to ensure that growers and beekeepers are aware of each other's problems and needs and aware of how to co-exist.

Our legislation will add another dimension. During our consultations on its implementation we shall need to consider very carefully how to protect bees by legal control—for example, by making application at the flowering stage of certain crops an offence. But this is the kind of detailed control on which we must consult all interests affected, so I speak without commitment.

I hope that with this explanation the hon. Gentleman will feel able to withdraw this amendment.