Neonicotinoid Alternatives

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – in the House of Commons on 22nd April 2021.

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Photo of Wera Hobhouse Wera Hobhouse Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Justice), Liberal Democrat Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Women and Equalities)

What steps he is taking to encourage the use of alternatives to neonicotinoids which do not harm pollinators.

Photo of Victoria Prentis Victoria Prentis The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The Government are committed to supporting alternatives to chemical pesticides. We are currently analysing the responses to our consultation on the national action plan. The proposed plan supports the development of low toxicity methods and improved advice and support for users.

Photo of Wera Hobhouse Wera Hobhouse Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Justice), Liberal Democrat Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Women and Equalities)

One hundred and fifty-seven of my Bath constituents have written to me since January to raise this issue. We must remember that we are in not only a climate emergency, but a nature emergency. Given that the Government made an explicit pledge to keep pesticide restrictions in place after Brexit, will the Minister commit to giving the Office for Environmental Protection the powers and resources to hold public authorities to account on environmental standards?

Photo of Victoria Prentis Victoria Prentis The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I know that the hon. Lady shares my desire that the world will be in a much better place for our children, and may I congratulate her on the birth of her recent grandchild? The Government are therefore completely committed to reducing chemical pesticide use. Protecting pollinators, for example, is a real priority for the Government. They are an essential part of the environment and play a crucial role in food production. As I said, we are analysing the many responses—probably some of them from her constituents—to our recent consultation and we will set out our proposals in due course.

Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

There was widespread relief this year that the colder weather meant that the risk of aphids spreading virus yellows was reduced. Before that, the Secretary of State had authorised a neonicotinoid pesticide to be used, and he has indicated that that will be the same again for the next two years. What is worrying is that the expert advice has been hidden from us—it took freedom of information requests from Friends of the Earth to get it. The Health and Safety Executive recommended refusal, so will the Minister explain why the advice was overruled? At a time when the UK is being looked to for global leadership on the environment, hiding that expert advice is not a good look. Who was pressing the Government to overrule that advice and will they do better in future?

Photo of Victoria Prentis Victoria Prentis The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The Government are committed to the neonicotinoid restrictions that we put in place in 2018, and to the sustainable use of pesticides. I believe that the hon. Gentleman was a signatory to the letter that we answered in January this year. As we set out in our letter, when making decisions on pesticides we took advice from the HSE, from the expert committee on pesticides and from DEFRA’s own chief scientific adviser. The specific exemption that the hon. Gentleman has referred to was for a non-flowering crop that is grown only in the east of England, to protect against possible aphid predation, which we were very concerned about at the time. I share his relief that it was not necessary to use neonics on that occasion, and I would ask him to welcome the fact that the authorisation was strictly controlled. We put in place a reduced application rate and a prohibition on growing flowering crops afterwards. I am pleased that it was not necessary to use it on that occasion.