Orders of the Day — Pesticides (Fees and Enforcement) Bill

– in the House of Commons at 9:54 pm on 19th June 1989.

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As amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.

Order for Third Reading read.—Queen's consent, and Prince of Wales's consent, signified.

Photo of Mr Richard Ryder Mr Richard Ryder , Mid Norfolk 10:11 pm, 19th June 1989

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

The Bill is designed to make technical improvements to the Food and Environment Protection Act 1985. Above all, its changes will save taxpayers more than £500,000 a year.

I thank the Opposition, and in particular the hon. Members for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) and for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) for enabling the Bill to proceed smoothly with their full support Upstairs on Second Reading and in Committee. On the basis of that unanimity, I commend the Bill to the House.

Photo of Mr Ron Davies Mr Ron Davies , Caerphilly 10:13 pm, 19th June 1989

For the sake of accuracy, I should point out that the hon. Members for Caerphilly and East Lothian are actually two different people. I represent Caerphilly and my hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) is unavoidably delayed this evening. The Bill was subject to a brief but interesting debate in Committee. The Opposition supported its central objective, which was to remedy defects in the Food and Environment Protection Act 1985 and to recover the £600,000 which the taxpayer currently pays to evaluate the products of the pesticide industry.

Provision is also made to secure the more effective monitoring of the 1985 Act by local authorities and the Opposition accepted the Minister's assurance in Committee that the local authority associations had been consulted and further accepted that no onerous or unduly costly additional responsibilities were being placed on them.

The Opposition recognise the value of pesticides to agriculture. However, we are determined to ensure that their use is entirely compatible with the health and welfare of the environment, of those who use them, and those who consume products on which they have been used.

The registration and review procedures for which the Bill makes financial provision must be thorough but also speedy. Denise Low, head of the Department's pesticides safety division, is reported in Farmers Weekly of 24 March as commenting: Resources are not available for us to deal with routine reviews very quickly. I put to the Minister a question that was asked in Committee. Will he use the Bill to ensure a speedy review of the many pesticides approved prior to 1965 and therefore still subject to no formal testing, and ensure also the registering of new products—some of which may be more environmentally friendly and desirable than those they were designed to replace?

Will the Minister ensure that there is less of the obsessive secrecy that surrounds pesticides, their uses and approvals than currently exists?

Finally, there remains concern in the agricultural industry that the new levies may fall unfairly and disproportionately across the industry. Will the Minister continue his consultations with trade representatives and ensure some form of public reporting, or reporting to Parliament, perhaps annually, on the scheme's operation as amended by the Bill?

My hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian wanted to be present in the House this evening, as he carried the burden of the Bill for the Opposition in Committee. However, he has duties in connection with the European elections, and I am sure that at this moment he is savouring the atmosphere of Tory MEP-free Scotland, just as we do in Wales. However, that matter is contentious but the Bill is not. We did not oppose the Bill's Second Reading or its progress in Committee, and we support its Third Reading.

Photo of Mr Geraint Howells Mr Geraint Howells , Ceredigion and Pembroke North 10:16 pm, 19th June 1989

I agree with the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) that the Bill is not contentious, and certainly it has our support. As I did not have the privilege of serving on the Committee, I have one or two questions to ask the Minister. I understand that since 1979 1 billion gallons of formulated pesticides have been used per annum. It is a serious matter that the number of health and safety inspectors dropped by 26 between 1977 and 1986.

I am informed that some farms are visited only once every six or eight years, while others have never been visited. I declare an interest, in that I do not believe that an inspector has ever visited my farm. More effective policing of spraying activities is needed, and that view was shared by the Agriculture Select Commitee in its 1987 report. The Government appear to have a lack of commitment to the health and safety inspectorate.

It is reported that, of the 71 incidents reported to the inspectorate in 1986, only 23 were properly investigated, and that inspectors are unable to provide farmers and the public with the information they require about incidents of pesticides poisoning. Although I support the Minister in every way on the pesticides issue, I believe that the Government missed a glorious opportunity to give extra financial aid so that additional inspectors can be appointed to look after the interests both of the public and of the agricultural industry.

Photo of Mr Richard Ryder Mr Richard Ryder , Mid Norfolk 10:19 pm, 19th June 1989

I thank the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) for raising three important points, with which I shall try to deal clearly and concisely.

First, he asked whether the industry would meet the costs, and whether the programme of review and registration would be speeded up. It is no secret that we have recently had some difficulty in completing as many evaluations of both new and old substances as we wished. Industry has a great interest in the rapid processing of new substances, and we are diverting as many resources as possible to deal with the applications. The review of older substances is indirectly in the interests of the companies, but is most immediately a task that we undertake in the public interest to reassure ourselves and the public of their continuing safety. We must balance those private and public interests at all times, and I believe that the Bill, by guaranteeing that the funds will be found, will allow us to progress faster in both cases.

Secondly, the hon. Gentleman asked whether I would seek—in his words—less obsessive secrecy on pesticides. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the work of our advisory committee on pesticides is not restricted by the Official Secrets Act, and industry has said that is not the data but their commercial value that it wishes to protect. We release a great deal of information now, and the issue is really acute only in relation to old pesticides, for which we simply cannot write over 400 evaluations. More resources—and, therefore, the Bill—will help to plug any important gaps in public information that hon. Members may identify. I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that we shall do all that we can to provide as much information as possible. If the information is there and its publication is in the public interest, I think that we should encourage the industry to permit it to go out.

Thirdly, the hon. Gentleman asked whether we would monitor and publish the distribution of resources between companies. The answer is yes. We are conscious of the interest of the industry and the House in the matter. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that consultation is already under way, and I shall inform the House of the outcome as soon as it is available.

The hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Howells)—I have always known Pembroke, North as Cardigan, and I suspect that a few people in the hon. Gentleman's constituency do as well—asked me about the availability of resources for enforcement. The strength of the Health and Safety Executive is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment; it does not fall under the aegis of the Ministry of Agriculture. I shall of course pass on the hon. Gentleman's remarks to my right hon. Friend.

Let me paint a broader picture of enforcement for the hon. Gentleman. From the outset, officials in our Department envisaged that environmental health and trading standards officers in local authorities would undertake enforcement of part III of the Food and Environment Protection Act 1985—FEPA—on the type of premises for which they have enforcement powers under the Health and Safety (Enforcing Authorities) Regulations 1977. It was not envisaged that that would entail the provision of additional resources, as such work would largely dovetail and coincide with duties performed under other legislation, and, indeed, would provide local authorities with comprehensive powers to enforce good practice.

Discussions with representatives of local authorities have established that they would not be averse to accepting such an enforcement role, but that such work is not viewed by the associations as devoid of financial resource implications—particularly training and litigation, the cost of neither of which can be readily determined. Local authorities intend to await our decision on the local authority officers to be specified to enforce part III before assessing the extent of the training that is necessary.

The Health and Safety Executive has a well established training scheme as well as a committee—HELA—together with sub-committees for liaison with representatives of local authorities on issues related to enforcement of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. My officials, together with those of the Health and Safety Executive, are seeking ways to use the HELA machinery to train authorised local authority officials to discuss the FEPA enforcement issues and to promulgate the kind of advice to which the hon. Member for Caerphilly referred.

Again I thank him for the support that both he and the official Opposition have given to this small though important Bill. I thank also the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North for his support and for that of his party.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.