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

I have seen that report. I was going to refer to it both in that connection and in response to the riposte that the Government may feel obliged to make, which is that the number of incidents reported are small. I contend that there are many more incidents that those that are reported.

I shall return to the point relating to an unannounced visit, with an aircraft flying fairly low and unreasonably close to dwelling houses or other buildings. That has an affect on people. In a letter written to my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) I noticed that it said that in Germany, for example, the intention of a contractor to spray aerially must be conveyed to both the police and the local authority. I hope that in the Bill we shall secure, among other things, much more effective communication about where aerial spraying will take place. Those are the reasons why the report is necessary within 12 months to reassure the public. It should be targeted towards the reduction of aerial spraying.

As I have said and as my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) pointed out, the number of incidents reported is comparatively low. I believe that it bears only scant relationship to the number of incidents that occur. The Friends of The Earth report suggests that where the public are gathered together at a meeting there is immediate testimony to such incidents by many. That is of much greater significance than the number of reports suggest. That may be due partly to the complexity of the rules of reporting, and partly to a lack of knowledge about how to go about reporting and why it should be done.

5.15 pm

We must also take account of the feeling that the controls are not properly enforced. On 26 April in a Ministry press release I noticed a warning about pesticide spraying and the minimisation of risks. The warning is fairly prominently displayed and says: The CAA will prosecute and in serious cases revoke an operator's Aerial Application Certificate if its requirements are not observed. Would that that were so. It does not seem to be the case, in view of the low number of prosecutions this decade—the average must be about three a year. Although that number started from a low base and has increased to six or seven a year, such a reminder is not likely to strike terror into the hearts of the aerial operators who may undertake the work.

There is a widespread belief among reputable people in the agriculture industry that the CAA does not carry out its duties in this case with the same degree of interest as it devotes to other duties. I ask the Minister to accept that that is the feeling of people in agriculture. That needs to be borne in mind when we consider the preparation of a report and the consideration of aerial spraying generally.

My fourth point is that any admission of departmental responsibility between the Department of Transport and MAFF is blurred. That was referred to on 16 April in Committee when the Minister, reminded of the fact that the Royal Commission on environmental pollution had already drawn attention to the matter, said that a review would be undertaken and a statement made about departmental responsiblity and the relationship between the Department of Transport and MAFF on this subject. Will she tell us when that review and statement can be expected because they are important?

I understand from the farming press that the review of clearances for aerial spraying has already been begun by the advisory committee on pesticides. Will she confirm that, and tell us when the committee is likely to complete its review? As aerial spraying is an important subject and a potentially damaging form of pesticide spraying we should like a separate report on it to consider the aspects of safety and dislocation for those living in the countryside, and to deal with the question of how to reduce that form of spraying to minimum.

Amendment No. 34 deals with the improvement of application technique. It is important and calls for a system of integrated test management. We alluded to it in part when we talked about resistance to pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides of present strains of produce, which will apply in future. We are committed—the Minister was good enough to confirm this—to the use in agriculture of the minimum amount of pesticides, consistent with the effective use of that pesticide to control pests on crops.

We need the most efficient and accurate techniques possible, and well maintained equipment. Those two things do not necessarily automatically follow. Sometimes we have good designs which a few farmers, wanting to reduce their costs, use long after the repair and maintenance of such equipment has been neglected. We sometimes have inefficient systems, which are not as modern as they can be. The result is that there is unnecessary spraying of pesticides.

There are two general methods of spraying which would yield a lower pesticide use—ultra-low volume or controlled droplet application. We examined these two methods in detail earlier, but I refer the Minister to an article in Farmers Weekly of 20 June about low volume spraying. The article claims that low volume spraying minimises the check to the crops that spraying inevitably gives them. It is calculated that the use of ultra-low volume spraying or controlled droplet application is equivalent to a 25 per cent. reduction in the use of the active ingredient in pesticides.

In a report from a conference which appeared in Big Farm Weekly an ADAS representative who is an entomologist said that one third of all insecticide sprays applied to cereals were a waste of money. That must give the farmer and outselves a great deal of food for thought. The representative described revenge spraying. That occurs when the cosmetic damage to the crops leads farmers to want to get rid of the pests merely for the sake of the crops' appearance rather than to improve the quality of the crop.

The Opposition call for an integrated pest control system. Apart from the techniques that we adopt in the spraying of pesticides, there are a number of other steps which would and should be taken, such as crop rotation, the timing of planting, soil management, the use of pest and disease resistant crop varieties and, most importantly, biological controls, which are a growing source of pest control.

Biological control, as a preventive measure, has been discussed in Committee and its most interesting use at present is in the glasshouse cultivation of salad crops. Dr. Payne, and others, have been responsible for developments in that sector. In Farmers Weekly of 14 June there is an article about Doctor Lynch of the Glasshouse Crops Research Institute. He has pioneered techniques which include straw breakdown. The active microbes released through that process will form a pest control. That new development shows the importance of soil surveys in identifying where a turning-in of straw would provide maximum benefit and could be done safely and to the benefit of the soil. I commend to the Minister early-day motion 575 that I have tabled on that subject. It would be to the country's and the farmers' advantage to study it. It will be at least four years before those developments are commercially applicable and viable.