Part of Orders of the Day — Food and Environment Protection Bill [Lords] – in the House of Commons at 7:12 pm on 26th June 1985.

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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.