Control of Pesticides etc.

Part of Orders of the Day — Food and Environment Protection Bill [Lords] – in the House of Commons at 5:45 pm on 26th June 1985.

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Photo of Mr Dale Campbell-Savours Mr Dale Campbell-Savours , Workington 5:45 pm, 26th June 1985

It is a great problem. I have a copy of the early-day motion which I tabled last year along with two of my hon. Friends and other hon. Members. I believe that about 50 to 60 Conservative Members, along with almost the whole of the Labour Party and a few alliance Members, signed the motion. Two hundred and thirty four Members signed the motion calling for an effective ban on the aerial spraying of certain arable crops and additionally of specified products and progress towards the introduction of a more effective means of pesticide application: further urges the Government to adopt such a programme as a matter of urgency. Two hundred and thirty four Members expressed concern about aerial spraying. The Minister should recognise the concern of those who signed the early-day motion and ensure that adequate safeguards are provided in the regulations that are to be published in due course.

Friends of the Earth has produced other information. It appears that in April a farmer sprayed the corner of a Mr. Martin Potter's garden with what the farmer described as a "deadly poison bug killer". That is the statement that was made by a constituent of an hon. Member. I accept that he might have exaggerated what took place, but that is what he said. The fact is that that individual did not know what was happening, and that is what the argument is all about. People do not know what they are being sprayed with because they are given inadequate information.

A Mrs. Betty Clarke of Birchington near Thanet contacted Friends of the Earth in April. She explained that she and a neighbour had suffered seven days of wheezing, swollen glands and bleary eyes as a result of crop spray. I accept that the cause may not have been crop spray, but it may have been. Many people—[Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle) wishes to intervene, I shall be glad to let him do so. Many people find it difficult to establish what has happened. They see an aeroplane and watch it spraying within the vicinity. Afterwards, they are taken ill and they assume that there is a connection between aerial spraying and their illness. If there is a connection, it is often too late to establish it.

The parliamentary private secretary' to the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Marland), knows that I have a letter from one of his constituents in which a complaint is made about a spraying incident in his constituency. It is only parliamentary protocol and good manners that prevent me from reading the letter to the House. The hon. Gentleman's constituent states in her letter that she made representations to her Member of Parliament and describes the action that was taken as a result of the representations.

The public are extremely concerned and they look to Parliament to take action. I have a series of letters—I shall not recite them all — which refer to spraying incidents, and it is clear that Parliament is expected to respond to the public's anxiety. Environmental groups such as the Soil Association and Friends of the Earth want a ban to be imposed on aerial spraying of farmland. They say that continued aerial spraying should be permissible only by a special permit for bracken control and forestry purposes.

Although aerial spraying involves only about 2 per cent. of British pesticide application, it has led to an extremely large number of pollution incidents. Much of the problem is due to spray drift. Some incidents are due to the failure of pilots to observe adequate precautions.

In Britain, aerial spraying is controlled by the Civil Aviation Authority under the Department of Transport, so it is distanced from the Ministry and the Department of the Environment. This division of responsibilities may go some way to explaining the problems over the control of aerial spraying in the past.

During the process of listening to the groups that came to us to refer not only to aerial spraying but to other aspects of pesticide legislation, I was told repeatedly that division of responsibility between the Departments was creating confusion, and my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) commented at length on this in Committee. Division of responsibility has created difficulties in pesticide control.

The National Society for Clean Air is concerned that the notification procedure that should be followed under CAA control has been widely ignored, and I have referred to cases illustrating that point, Mr. Chairman.