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 Brynmor John Mr Brynmor John , Pontypridd 3:46 pm, 26th June 1985

The only connecting factor in the two amendments is the fact that they choose the same mechanism—a review by Ministers within 12 months of the passing of the Bill — to deal with two separate matters. The first is aerial spraying. Lest there be any misunderstanding, especially on the part of the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), who challenged me on this point, I should say that some aerial spraying is necessary, for example, in difficult terrain. The spraying of upland bracken is extremely important, and spraying is important in controlling pests in forests. However, modern technology has already made it less necessary to use aerial spraying in the lowlands than it was some years ago. The development of low-pressure-tyre vehicles means that spraying can now be done by ground-based vehicles in conditions which would have been unthinkable a decade ago, and probably less. Therefore, to some extent, the need for aerial spraying in the lowlands has diminished.

We are asking for a report to be produced with a view to reducing aerial spraying to the minimum necessary. I should set out briefly to the House my reasons for asking for this limitation. One point that was voiced in Committee—it has been voiced by environmental groups and at public meetings—is the tremendous concern about aerial spraying, and about the involvement, accidental or otherwise, of people, animals and flora. There is unresolved public anxiety, which is not reassured by the often well-meaning statements that nothing can happen and that there is no real problem or danger. Many of those incidents are highly frightening and cause a great deal of emotion. We will not be reassured unless MAFF examines the working of the Act and aerial spraying, and reports to the House so that the matter can be publicly aired.

A second reason why the minimisation of aerial spraying should be undertaken — in Committee we considered a few fairly ropey forms of spraying—is that of all forms of spraying, it is probably the most inaccurate. I expect that many members of the Committee will have received a recent memo in which the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds reiterates its concern for areas that become affected, although those areas were not due to be sprayed. Two of the examples that it gives are SSSIs and ponds. Spray drift is a particular problem for aerial spraying. It is a problem in itself, and relates to the next reason why I believe that a report is necessary, which is that on occasions aerial contractors spray in unsuitable weather conditions. That climatic problem means that wider areas of land are affected than originally intended. The effect of that on the inhabitants of neighbouring properties is tremendous.

The third reason is that often such spraying is unannounced. The Minister will no doubt reassure me that a formula is laid down under which spraying visits are reported to the nearest police headquarters, and so on but I ask her to accept the evidence, produced on an anecdotal but significant basis by hon. Members, which shows that in practice many people find aircraft spraying crops adjacent to their properties without having had the faintest idea that spraying was to take place that day or that low-flying aircraft would spray at or comparatively near to houses.