Orders of the Day — Food and Environment Protection Bill [Lords] – in the House of Commons at 6:15 pm on 26th June 1985.

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Amendments made: No. 53, in line 4, leave out 'a release' and insert 'an escape'.

No. 54, in line 7, after 'sea', insert 'to make provision for the control of the deposit of substances and articles under the sea-bed;'.

No. 55, in line 8, leave out 'and preparations' and insert, 'preparations and organisms'.—[Mrs. Fenner.]

Order for Third Reading read [Queen's and Prince of Wales's Consent, on behalf of the Crown, signified.]

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

Photo of Mrs Peggy Fenner Mrs Peggy Fenner , Medway 6:57 pm, 26th June 1985

Now that we are coming to the end of our debates on this Bill I should like, before I go into the specific points raised, to express my appreciation and that of my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the way in which hon. Members have responded to these proposals.

There have been many questions and amendments, some probing the Government's intentions, others seeking to modify or extend one provision or another. But the most striking feature throughout our debates has been the desire shown on all sides of the House to make this a better Bill and to ensure that it deals adequately with the problems which might arise.

I am glad to say that there has been considerable interest in the the subject matter of the three parts of the Bill and equally widespread support for the principles they contain, which shows that the Government were right to bring forward this legislation now. The result is, indeed, a much clearer Bill than the one we started with three months ago.

Part I has been generally welcomed by hon. Members on both sides of the House, but there have been a number of areas of concern which I think we have gone a long way to resolve during its passage. However, we must remember to keep these concerns in perspective. The powers provided by part I would be used only in exceptional circumstances to ensure the safety of food following an escape or release of harmful substances. To give some idea of the exceptional circumstances, we can envisage only one or two occasions in the past 30 years when they might have been activated.

In part II there are now two major additions to the area controlled by the Dumping at Sea Act 1974 — marine incineration and deposits under the seabed. The Bill substantially broadens the range of factors which Ministers must take into account when licensing deposits and places a specific duty on them to consider the availability of other methods of disposal. It provides for recovery of the cost of monitoring and enforcement work and for consultation with those who will be paying the new fees. It also reenacts a provision on procedures for the enforcement of the international dumping conventions, whose original omission led, entirely innocently, to some misunderstanding, which has now been removed.

There is one very important general point which arose at our previous sitting on which I must set the record straight. This is the assertion that the United Kingdom is the greatest contributor to pollution of the North sea. The facts are quite otherwise, and I would recommend the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) to take a closer look at the Royal Commission on environmental pollution's 10th report, which he quoted the other day. This report examined the whole range of pollution issues and included a substantial section on the North sea. It naturally reviewed United Kingdom policy and practice on dumping at sea and I must emphasise that it did not recommend any change in our controls.

What the report did was to review the scientific evidence. It showed that the main sources of contaminants were the atmosphere and rivers, of which the Elbe, the Rhine and the Meuse were the major contributors. It showed that disposal of sewage sludge and dumping of other wastes accounted for only a tiny percentage — about 3 per cent. — of the heavy metals. The report noted that the effects of contaminants were most pronounced in estuaries and coastal waters. It quoted the Thames as the most notable example of recent improvement and the Wadden sea as an area of particular concern.

The Royal Commission concluded that there was no substantial threat to the North sea, although more research was needed, and recommended that the United Kingdom should respond positively to international initiatives. That is exactly what we have done. It is quite clear from the Royal Commission report that the United Kingdom is not the major polluter of the North sea; indeed this country has a good record which, on the state of rivers in particular, contrasts favourably with that of some of our neighbours.

Part III of the Bill has occupied a good deal of our time. We are fortunate in having had the pesticides safety precautions scheme as a stepping stone to part III. That non-statutory scheme has evolved over the years into an effective screening system for the safety of pesticides coming on to the United Kingdom market. But I have no doubt that it was right to seek to replace it with a statute. It was not simply that the restrictive agreement necessary to prevent unlicensed imports was attracting the attention of Brussels — much more fundamentally, with the current priority that is given to health and environmental questions in public debate, the absence of statutory powers left the scheme without the necessary muscle to impose the controls required.

In our debates we have been able to explain in some detail the good work already done under the PSPS, the working party on pesticide residues, BASIS, the wildlife incident investigation scheme, and so forth, and we have given assurances that that will continue and develop. We have also been able to explain our ideas on how the Bill should be implemented. Finally, but certainly not least, we have been able to hear the views of the House.

But it has also been equally important for us to hear the views of hon. Members on the future detailed controls to be laid down in regulations. We have taken very careful note of all these views and will take account of them in our consultation paper on the implementation of part III. We shall send a copy of the paper to all right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken in the debates and to any others who request it, as well as to all interested organisations, and we shall allow ample time for comment before we prepare the regulations.

Finally, I should like to emphasise the extent of my Department's commitment to conservation of the countryside and other environmental matters, as witnessed by our concrete achievements. Through ADAS, for example, we advise farmers on how they can build conservation into their farming practices. Under our capital grant schemes, we give particular emphasis to environmentally sympathetic farming operations by paying premium rates. In co-operation with the Countryside Commission, we are operating an experimental scheme designed to help safeguard the unique landscape of the grazing marshes in the broads. And, following the successful efforts of my right hon. Friend to persuade his colleagues in Brussels to include a suitable provision in the agricultural structures regulation, we are now preparing a special scheme to promote environmentally sympathetic farming practices in designated sensitive areas. I commend the improvements to environmental protection in this Bill, to take a worthy place in that list of achievements.

Photo of Dr David Clark Dr David Clark Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Education) 7:02 pm, 26th June 1985

I join the Minister in welcoming the Bill in principle. It is much improved on the Bill that entered the other place many months ago. It spent a long time in Committee, but I do not think that anyone who served on that Committee would deny that it was anything but workmanlike. We graciously acknowledge that the Government were prepared to accept a number of points argued by the Opposition. In a sense, the Bill marks the end of an era. Parliament has recognised the feeling in the country that something should be done about pesticides, and we commend the Government's approach.

The whole basis of the Bill, especially part III, will be the regulations. We appreciate the Minister's offer that Members of Parliament and others will be consulted about the regulations. As they cannot be amended, it is vital that there is maximum consultation with interested parties. It is by the regulations that the Government's intent will be judged.

A number of markers about the regulations should be put down immediately. The first arises out of the Minister's television appearance on 11 June. I hope that when the Bill is implemented the EEC will confirm that the regulations about residues will be adhered to. We understand that to be the Government's position and hope that that will be enacted in the Bill.

We are especially concerned about 2,4,5-T. I do not want to labour the point, but I hope that the Minister will take the Egan incident into account. That case was reported in the Daily Mirror on 13 June and, tragically, involved the termination of a pregnancy. In the mind of the gynaecologist, that was linked with 2,4,5-T.

Thirdly, the regulations must take into account the pesticides and chemicals that are regarded as not suitable for use, but are nevertheless sold. I am especially thinking of DDT. We must acknowledge the point made by hon. Members on both sides of the House that the Friends of the Earth has done a great deal of work in that respect. It has brought out examples which, perhaps, have surprised bureaucracy and surprised us, but we are all the better for knowing about them. I hope that the Government will give an assurance that, under the regulations, it will be illegal to sell pesticides that have been withdrawn.

I wish to mention also Dieldrin and heron deaths in the river Avon area. We are receiving a great deal of information that pesticides that have been withdrawn are still being sold. We expect the Government to take steps to prevent that. Therefore, we await the regulations with a great deal of interest.

We do not wish to disagree to any great extent with the Minister about part II, but my reading of the Royal Commission report is considerably different from hers. Part II replaces the Dumping at Sea Act 1974. It tightens the licensing system. We hope and look for Government action on that aspect.

It may be right that, overall, atmospheric and river pollution adds greatly to the pollution within the oceans, but it is in localities and where the concentrations are greatest that the greatest damage is caused. I sent a document to the Minister's hon. Friend earlier this week which has been compiled by the fishermen of Cullercoats and South Shields. It shows that the dumping that takes place between five and 12 miles off the river Tyne has reduced the catches of fishermen in my constituency by 90 per cent. in 15 years. It is their view that that is due to the fact that chemicals are dumped from Teesport off the river Tyne, and we cannot accept that. I give that merely as an example of the Government action that we expect under Part II to deal with concentrations of dumping.

We hope that we have converted the Government and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on environmental matters. It is a pity that we could not convert them several weeks ago when we were discussing the Wildlife and Countryside (Amendment) Bill. We very much welcome the Government's efforts on Halvergate marshes. I wonder whether they will give us the same commitment with Swaveney fens, which are about to be drained with the help of almost £500,000 of Government grant. Many of us do not regard it as satisfactory only to protect small isolated parts of the countryside. We are not happy with having only isolated SSSIs. We want to keep the living rural environment, not just a sterile cereal area. I would welcome a Government statement on that—if not today, in the near future.

However, I do not wish to end my speech on that note because we have debated a constructive and worthwhile Bill. The key factor is the regulations, and we shall be watching the Government's actions on them with great interest. In principle, we welcome the Bill.

Photo of Mr John Farr Mr John Farr , Harborough 7:10 pm, 26th June 1985

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister on piloting the Bill through Committee and the two and a half days on Report.

It is a unique Bill in many respects. It replaces the pesticides safety protection scheme, and I hope that the new scheme will work half as well as the old one did. An exceptional feature of the Bill are the many statutory instruments that will be brought before the House for debate. Hon. Members on both sides of the House will await those instruments anxiously. We may even have a chance to debate a draft statutory instrument before the final statutory instrument is laid before the House. The Bill is unique because so much of it has yet to be decided.

I hope that there will be a statutory instrument relating to part I, to set up a compensation fund for any destruction of crops or produce that may be ordered, whether or not there has been pollution. The flaw in the Bill is that it is desperately unfair that small producers, small merchants and small growers should suffer from an order to destroy their crops even when no pollution has occurred. I hope that the Government will introduce a statutory instrument to correct that anomaly. Apart from that flaw, I warmly welcome the Bill.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 7:12 pm, 26th June 1985

I too, welcome the Bill. It is the lot of Opposition spokesmen to welcome legislation when the country is better run with that legislation than without it, but it is also their lot to say that the Government should have done more. I shall attempt to strike that balance.

The Liberal party has called for legislation on this subject since 1967. It has taken 18 years to get a response. That is slow, but it is never too late to protect our environment and food from hazards. I hope that the Bill is not a token gesture or an outline, which will not be followed by regulations. We shall watch carefully what the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food does during the next 12 months. The hon. Member for Harborough (Sir J. Farr) said that regulations will be laid before the House. I hope that that will be sooner rather than later and that they will supply the teeth that the Bill needs.

It worries me that insufficient powers and resources have been allocated to make the Bill effective. If the Government are to honour their commitment, they will have to produce more manpower and resources to ensure that the pollution dangers are overcome. We do not want a repeat of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, which did not have sufficient enforcement resources. We watched as, remorselessly, year after year, more of our countryside and wildlife was destroyed. However, we were not powerless to act. The Wildlife and Countryside (Amendment) Bill introduced by the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) is welcome and respected, and will enable us to do something about the problems. Let us not make the same mistakes again.

It is clear that research is proceeding apace. As the results of research into the effects on health of spraying pesticides become available and researchers have produced more evidence, Parliament may have to respond again, either specifically and quickly or more generally. With increased knowledge of those processes, the Government must be prepared to introduce legislation. I hope that we shall review and debate the matter on a regular basis.

Some of us are unhappy with the presumption in favour of freedom of information that the Government selected for the Bill. I and many others believe that they have not gone far enough. We should go as far as other countries have, and I hope that the Government will soon realise that they have nothing to fear by allowing people to know what is happening. Only Governments who are afraid, in countries which are not normally democracies, close their doors, batten down the hatches and prevent the widest public participation. I hope that there will be no veto by commerce, bureaucrats or Ministers on the information that everyone has a right to know relating to pesticides and environmental pollution.

I pay tribute to my colleagues in the other place, especially to my noble Friend Lord Mackie of Benshie, who worked hard on the Bill. I also pay tribute to all those in many parties who have improved the Bill during its passage through the House. The Minister accepts that it has been improved.

However, looking ahead, I hope that we can improve the legislation in another respect. Although we are establishing a framework for protecting food, improving the control of pollution and preventing unlicensed dumping and regulating the supply and use of pesticides in Britain, we have still not taken up our responsibilities for the Third world. Western Europe exports more than 60 per cent. of the pesticides that it produces to the Third world. If we export them without protection, we export pollution and damage to countries that do not have the knowledge that we have, and that look to us to protect them from the mistakes that we have made. I hope that we shall do more in the future to ensure that the highest standards of control of exports are applied and that we never export products that we are unwilling to use ourselves.

With those reservations, I welcome the Bill and look forward to the introduction of regulations soon.

Photo of Mr John Carlisle Mr John Carlisle , Luton North 7:17 pm, 26th June 1985

I shall make the shortest speech ever on a Third reading. I apologise to my hon. Friend the Minister for not being here for her opening remarks. I fully support the Bill. The Committee stage was an interesting experience for most of us. The trade has learned from experience, and from the words of hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), who had altercations with me on various aspects of the Bill. The trade has listened with great interest to what he said and to the anxieties that were expressed by hon. Members on both sides of the House.

The United Kingdom Agricultural Supply Trade Association is especially delighted by my hon. Friend's appreciation of the BASIS scheme. The trade understands that BASIS is a necessary policing part of the Bill and of the entire industry. We have made some worthwhile contributions on a fairly delicate subject, and agriculture will be the better for the remarks that were made here and in Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed, with amendments.