Amendment 75

Agriculture Bill - Report (3rd Day) – in the House of Lords at 1:31 pm on 22nd September 2020.

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Baroness Finlay of Llandaff:

Moved by Baroness Finlay of Llandaff

75: After Clause 34, insert the following new Clause—“Application of pesticides: limitations on use in certain wind conditions(1) The Secretary of State must by regulations make provision for prohibiting the application of any pesticide for the purposes of agriculture at high wind speeds.(2) In particular, the regulations must make provision prohibiting the use of pesticides when wind speeds are high, near—(a) any dwelling;(b) any water source;(c) any public or private building or space where members of the public may be present.(3) Regulations under this section must specify a minimum distance between any of the locations listed under subsection (2)(a) to (c).”

Photo of Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, in leading this group, I make it clear that the wording of my amendments is inferior to that of Amendment 78, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. I will not waste time on mine discussing wind speeds and contamination, et cetera, because I hope that he will move his amendment and that it will be supported across the House in a Division. If not, I will call a Division on his amendment.

I am grateful to the Minister for arranging a most informative meeting with officials. They confirmed that, although some parts of EU regulations will be carried over into our legislation after next January, the unused powers on which nothing has yet been done will lapse.

There are three main pieces of relevant EU legislation. Regulation 1107/2009 permits individual pesticides and Regulation 396/2005 sets maximum residue levels for pesticides in food. But Directive 2009/128/EC, which sets a framework for action to ensure that pesticides are used responsibly and that alternatives are developed, is the most important here. It contains a mixture of things that member states “must” do and “may” do. The “musts” have been implemented in Great Britain through the Plant Protection Products (Sustainable Use) Regulations 2012. However, at the end of the transition period the powers in this directive that allow, but do not require, particular actions can no longer be used, because the European Communities Act 1972 will no longer be in force. So we will have a lacuna, unless the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, is accepted.

Over the years, Defra has been aware of the problems. In 2017, Defra’s former chief scientific adviser, Professor Sir Ian Boyd, published a paper in the journal Science entitled Toward Pesticidovigilance. This paper is a damning assessment of the regulatory approach worldwide to pesticides sprayed on crops, including that the impacts of “dosing whole landscapes” have been ignored, and that the assumption by regulators that it is “safe” to use pesticides at industrial scales across landscapes “is false” and must change.

Many of these chemicals are hormone disruptors. Some of them mimic oestrogens, and it has been suggested that this could account for decreased sperm motility and sperm counts and male infertility, as well as for breast, bladder, thyroid and other hormone-dependent cancers, childhood cancers and even brain malignancies.

The other effect of many pesticides is to disrupt mitochondrial function. The mitochondria are like the engine in every cell in the body. Mitochondrial dysfunction can lead to disability and chronic illness, and it interferes with the body’s efforts to heal. Recent studies show that chemical mixtures appear to have a cumulative deleterious effect, even when no single chemical in the mix is at levels defined as toxic, meaning that the “no observed adverse effect” level and the “lowest observed adverse effect” level need to be revisited. Worse still, pesticides are handed on to the next generation in the womb. Studies of umbilical cord blood have repeatedly shown hundreds of different chemical pollutants.

Monsanto, the producer of glyphosate and now owned by Bayer, admitted carcinogenic effects for large numbers, with out-of-court settlements for malignancies, including lymphoma. It has been suggested that such settlements avoid having to disclose secret internal documents in court, which of course is what happened to the tobacco industry. To quote a former civil servant in an email on this amendment:

“I only wish now … that I had been at the time braver and more able to speak out against the mulishly aggressive intellectual dishonesty and subservience to the pesticide companies that was behind so much of what I was asked to do.”

The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, will speak to his amendment and I urge all to support it at the vote. It will plug a gap after next January. Without it, the UK will be left with a hole in its legislative framework which will be extensively exploited by the pesticide industry, to the detriment of human health and the long-term improvement of a biodiverse ecology, which is what the Bill aims to achieve. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Labour 1:45 pm, 22nd September 2020

My Lords, I am speaking to Amendment 78 and I need to make it absolutely clear that I intend to seek the opinion of the House on it when we reach it. I am very much indebted to the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, for her support and her indication that she will back my amendment. She has made a significant part of my case by identifying the medical impact of exposure to pesticides and the doubts about the authorisation process.

I also thank my co-signatories, the noble Baronesses, Lady Bakewell and Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and the noble Lord, Lord Randall—demonstrating the cross-party support for this vital but very simple and specific amendment.

I should also thank the Minister for the meeting to which the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, referred. It was useful but we did not agree. As the noble Baroness said, it appears that the department’s line is that there is no need for the amendment because, under EU law now transposed and retained in UK law, the Government already have the discretion to come forward with such regulations. Leaving aside the fact that they have not done so over the 11 years since that law was put in place, on closer examination that assertion appears to be only partly true, and from January, as the noble Baroness, explained, it will not be true at all. We therefore need to put such a provision in this legislation.

In this amendment we are addressing the effect of pesticides on human beings—on those who are exposed to doses of chemicals not designed for humans and in many cases, particularly among residents, on those subject to multiple exposures to multiple chemicals. We want to see a regulatory framework imposing minimum distances between the buildings in which people live and which the public frequent, and the spraying operations of pesticides.

Regrettably, we are not talking about unusual events. Most of the harm comes from everyday tractor-based pesticide spraying at certain times of the year. Local residents, schoolchildren, members of the public visiting public buildings, medical facilities and educational buildings, and other bystanders are all vulnerable.

We have rightly spent some time on this Bill talking about protecting wildlife, biodiversity, farm animals, watercourses and soil from harmful effects of agricultural practice. This amendment is a vital but limited step in the right direction to protect human beings—primarily, residents in rural areas—by requiring spraying to be well away from homes, public buildings and places where the public are congregated. In particular, it moves towards protecting those who live, full-time, adjacent to crops that are subject to blanket applications and those who attend public spaces adjacent to such fields. As I have said, this is a very simple amendment. It requires Ministers to come forward with regulations establishing a minimum distance between such applications and the buildings.

The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, has spelled out the terrible damage that can be done to humans by ingesting chemical pesticides directly into the lungs and bloodstream. Regrettably, pesticides—including some still used on UK farms and elsewhere—on their own or in combination, can cause the breakdown of the immune system and can poison the nervous system, and can cause cancer, mutations and birth defects. The noble Baroness has convincingly spelled that out.

Noble Lords will have received materials from campaigners on this issue, including from the redoubtable Georgina Downs, who has dossiers on rural families who have suffered. In Committee, I cited just a couple of those testimonies; I will now share a couple more. Chris from Sawtry said:

“We have farmers spraying near our home and school. The fumes cause headaches, dizziness and burn the throat.”

Victoria from Curry Rivel said:

“I have witnessed crops being sprayed just metres from my Daughter’s rural school and have had signs of chemical scorching on our fruit trees in our garden … Just meters from my Daughter’s sand pit!”

As I said in Committee, manufacturers rightly and responsibly label their pesticides, insecticides and herbicides with warnings, such as “Very toxic by inhalation”, “Do not breathe spray” and “Risk of serious damage to the eyes”. Farmers and farmworkers are advised under health and safety laws, and by manufacturers, to wear protective clothing, and most do so—but residents are not so protected. Guidance to users that they should inform residents, and that the chemical used should be clearly identified, is very frequently ignored and pretty well never enforced. Ministers and others have lauded the UK pesticides regime as one of the best in the world, but it is wrong to say that it, or the EU system, is safe. In particular, they are not protecting those who live close by.

This amendment would have the effect of protecting members of the public from hazardous health impacts near buildings. It is a simple, straightforward amendment requiring the Government to come up with minimum distances from the application of such pesticides. It is best to leave the precise distance for consultation and scientific measurement, but let us today establish the principle. My amendment is a very small but vital part of the journey to protect our rural populations.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Green

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and of course the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay. I support these amendments wholeheartedly. I would like to speak at length about them, but I will keep my remarks quite short so that we have plenty of time for a vote.

It seems strange that in America, Monsanto—or rather the new company, Bayer—is paying out $10 billion to settle tens of thousands of claims that Roundup causes cancer, yet it still claims that this a perfectly healthy product, does not put warning labels on the product and says that it is safe. It strikes me as very strange that anybody could deny that this amendment is necessary.

The amendment does not do what I would like it to do—that is, ban all pesticides from 9 am this morning—but it protects the more vulnerable people in our country. In particular, it protects children in schools, childcare settings and nurseries, people in hospitals, and people in any building used for human habitation. It seems such a sensible amendment—I do not know why the Government do not see that it is necessary.

I urge all noble Lords to please vote for this and make sure that the Government get the message very clearly.

Photo of Lord Randall of Uxbridge Lord Randall of Uxbridge Conservative

My Lords, I was pleased to be able to put my name to Amendment 78 from the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and it is a pleasure to follow him. It is of course always a pleasure to follow the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones and Lady Finlay.

There is no need for me to repeat the arguments that have been so ably put, except to say this. As Members who have been following our deliberations will know, I have been speaking about the importance of preserving our wildlife and biodiversity. One of the seminal works that I remember reading when I was very young was Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, in which she highlighted the devastating impacts of DDT on wildlife. However, this is much more fundamental: this is about protecting human life. If we have not yet learned that people sometimes assure us that everything is all right when it patently is not, we need think only of the tobacco industry—as the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, said—and of asbestos. We would be failing ourselves, the public and our fellow human beings if we did not recognise the harmful nature of pesticides.

I am not an expert to know whether they should be banned entirely, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, has suggested. I am sure that there are many in the agricultural sector who say that they are incredibly important. However, one thing we can do is to get this amendment into the Bill, because it would protect so many people. It is not just about protecting those in rural communities, because the fumes can waft over other areas. I have not heard so far—although I am willing to hear it—the reasoning of my noble friend on the Front Bench, but from what I have heard so far, I am happy to support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty.

Photo of Lord Duncan of Springbank Lord Duncan of Springbank Deputy Chairman of Committees

My Lords, I alert the House that we have been having some technical difficulties with the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, but I hope that he is now on the line.

Photo of The Earl of Dundee The Earl of Dundee Conservative

My Lords, I support these amendments on controlling the application of pesticides. The amendments in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, and others helpfully consider the consequences of different wind conditions, calling for the analysis and monitoring of effects, as well as for immediate limitations on pesticides use in wind conditions that threaten dwellings, water sources and members of the public. Her Amendment 76 usefully urges that when pesticides are already labelled as harmful, it should then become an offence to fail to inform residents living within a certain radius of the pesticide application that such an application is to occur. I am also in favour of Amendment 78, from the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, which seeks to ban pesticide applications near buildings where people live and work.

I come now to my own Amendment 80, which addresses two aspects: first, the need to develop targets for the adoption of integrated pest management associated with agroecological farming practices, including organic farming; and, secondly, and connected to these targets, to develop a system of analysis. This would monitor the reduction of harm to people and animals and the reduction of pesticide residues in food.

In Committee, my noble friend Lady Bloomfield gave a number of reassurances. These covered government backing for research into alternatives to pesticides and other chemicals. She pointed out that the transforming food programme, which includes methods such as robotics and vertical farming, might well cause pesticide use to diminish. As a result, does my noble friend agree that there is already consistency between what the Government confirm and what Amendment 80 seeks? Does she also consider that there is no divergence between confirmed government plans and the amendments in this grouping from the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, and the noble Lord, Lord Whitty? These latter amendments simply advocate safeguards and the expedience of good practice until alternatives to pesticides are successfully found.

Photo of Lord Young of Norwood Green Lord Young of Norwood Green Labour 2:00 pm, 22nd September 2020

My Lords, I too wish to speak in support of these amendments. I am pleased to learn that the Government say that they will carry on research into reducing the use of pesticides. There are perhaps somewhat controversial methods of reducing the use of pesticides, and one I will refer to is known as gene editing. This is a very significant variation on genetic modification, which was understandably opposed by many. Gene editing gives us an opportunity to do what plant breeders have done over the years and make plants less dependent on pesticides and more able to fight diseases. I would welcome a response from the Minister on the Government’s attitude towards gene editing as a contribution to the reduction in the use of pesticides.

Photo of The Duke of Wellington The Duke of Wellington Crossbench

My Lords, I declare my agricultural interests as in the register. I wish to speak to Amendment 80 in this group, tabled by the noble Earl, Lord Dundee. It seems to me that any government policy that reduces the use pesticides in British agriculture is, unarguably, desirable. Farmers, however, will be damaged economically if they are not able to use certain pesticides. Damage to the sugar beet crop in France, as reported recently in the Financial Times, is an example of this. If public money is to be used for public goods, reduced use of pesticides should be compensated by public money. The amendment in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, is a step in the right direction and I do hope the Government will accept it. Encouraging conversion to organic farming will, among other things, reduce pesticide use. But I completely take the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, in last week’s debate, that certified organic farming is not the only nature-friendly system of farming.

I really hope that the Government will give the opportunity for farmers from 2021—not 2024—to earn extra payments for nature-friendly farming practices, including by reducing the use of pesticides. Developing targets for integrated pest management and monitoring the effects of pesticide use, and reducing pesticide residues in food, are aspirations that I expect should be embraced by a Government committed to improving the environment, as this Government are.

Photo of Baroness Pitkeathley Baroness Pitkeathley Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

I call the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood. No? Then I call the noble Earl, Lord Caithness.

Photo of The Earl of Caithness The Earl of Caithness Conservative

My Lords, I spoke on similar amendments to these in Committee. I am happy to add my support to Amendment 78, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. My mind goes back to the days when the Countess of Mar was fighting a lonely battle against MAFF on sheep dips and the problems they caused. I am just concerned that the Government are perhaps not taking this issue as seriously as I would like them to.

I am attracted to the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, because it gives the Government flexibility. As I said in Committee, there is a difference between the effects of fungicides, herbicides and insecticides, depending on what you are spraying. Weather conditions make a difference, too. So further research is needed, but the principle of what the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, is trying to achieve is absolutely correct. There have been too many instances when the public have complained, particularly about nasty chemicals that have been sprayed, and some farmers do not take this issue as seriously as we would like.

I support my noble friend Lord Randall on the necessity of supporting biodiversity and wildlife. A lot of bees, birds and animals get caught up in spraying when they are nesting in hedgerows and the spray application is made in a bad way. So I give my support to the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. I hope that my noble friend Lord Gardiner will be able to convince him that the amendment should not be pushed to Division, but I do approve of the principle of it.

Photo of Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick Non-affiliated

My Lords, I am happy to participate in this debate and would like to lend my support to the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty.

There has been a lot of discussion over the last 40 years about the impact of pesticides on the human health of rural residents and on biodiversity, flora, fauna, insects and animals. Therefore, I am very much drawn to Amendment 78, which I believe is a crucial amendment, trying to protect human health from agricultural pesticides. Rural residents and communities across the UK continue to be adversely impacted by the cocktail of pesticides sprayed on crops in our localities, reporting various acute and chronic effects on health.

I am a rural dweller. I did not grow up on a farm but I am very conscious of the impact of those pesticides because I am an asthmatic. I have talked to many people whose health has been impacted by sheep dip, by Roundup and by the emergence of diseases that hitherto there was no family history of, and that they had not suffered from before. Exposure and risk for rural committees and residents are from the release of those cocktails of harmful agricultural pesticides into the air where people live and breathe because, once pesticides have been dispersed, their airborne droplets, particles and vapours are in the air irrespective of whether or not there is wind.

In that regard, I take note of the amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff. Vapour lift-off can occur days, weeks or months after any application, further exposing those living in the locality, and it has nothing to do with the wind. The Government’s stated position that pesticides are strictly regulated and that scientific assessment shows there are no risks to people and the environment, is simply not correct. Since 2009, EU and UK equivalent laws legally define rural residents living in a locality of pesticide-sprayed crops as a vulnerable group, recognised as having high pesticide exposure over the long term. Further, the risks of both acute and chronic effects of such exposure are again recognised in article 7 of the EU sustainable use directive. I hope that the Minister will see fit to accept this amendment. If not, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, will press it to Division. It should be given statutory effect because rural populations are looking for this direction and this protection.

Photo of Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Conservative

My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick.

I congratulate the authors of this interesting group of amendments on the thought and effort that they have put into them. As I am sure the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, will realise, I have some concerns about her amendments, particularly regarding the drafting and how they might be interpreted; for example, the word “drifting” is open to interpretation. The noble Baroness herself highlighted some of the difficulties this group would have. It would be enormously helpful if the Minister could explain the current regulations when summing up. I am not totally familiar with this area but I understand that it is heavily regulated and that there is quite stringent provision in the current code of practice, which is operated by the Health and Safety Executive and was itself updated quite recently, I think in 2005.

I am also concerned about Amendment 78, which is loosely drafted. Subsection (1) includes the phrase,

“prohibiting the application of any pesticide … near”.

That seems very loosely drafted, so I would be interested to hear how the Minister thinks the provision could be implemented, were it to be passed today.

This is a good opportunity for the Minister to raise our awareness of previous research and commercial innovation relevant to air levels and other controls of pesticides. I am minded of the fact that a lot of work is going on, I think in Essex, breeding bugs that eat and destroy other bugs, which I presume would fall within the remit of Amendment 80 in the name of my noble friend Lord Dundee.

My concern is that, for the reasons set out by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, and the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, this area is already heavily regulated and the amendments could be very difficult to implement as drafted.

Photo of Lord Campbell-Savours Lord Campbell-Savours Labour

My Lords, because I do not want to detain the House, this is the only amendment that I am speaking on today.

I strongly support Amendment 79 and have personal reasons for doing so, so I need to tell a story. It is about the late Dr Bill Fakes, an old friend of mine, a former GP in my former Workington constituency who I met nearly 50 years ago. He was a brilliant man—yes, a bit eccentric, but that is often the case with gifted people. He was a biologist with an intense interest in entomology. He had been brought up in the Fenlands in the small rural community of Willingham. It was a market garden, an arable area, and with his love of nature he took a particular interest in the ditches and characteristics of the land where, with other children and friends, he would gather beetles and other insects, carefully logging their every characteristic. As a bright boy inspired by these activities as a child, he went on to study medicine at UCL in London, ultimately ending up in Workington as a young—yes, rather eccentric but brilliant—general practitioner.

In 1995 Dr Fakes was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma and ended up, via West Cumberland Hospital, at the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle, where a fellow medic and consultant took a particular interest in his condition. What they were not to know at that stage was that a number of his relatives and friends were subsequently to be stricken down with similar or associated conditions. They included his sister, his mother and one of his best young friends, Brian Haddon, all within a few years of each other and all from within the vicinity of the Fakes’ home in the Fens.

Dr Fakes’ response was to research his condition in detail, taking up much of his own time. Part of the research was to arrange for his pituitary gland, I think it was, to be removed from his body on death and sent for autopsy assessment at a special unit in Glasgow. Bill Fakes had been assiduous in making these arrangements as he believed that such an assessment would expose the danger of underregulated spraying arrangements. However, somewhere along the line the gland disappeared and was lost, and all the preparation came to nothing. Dr Fakes was convinced that his condition and that of his family and friends related directly to the use of pesticides in the vicinity of buildings and installations to which the public had access next to his home. He wanted all deaths in pesticide spray areas to be reviewed with a view to amendments to legislation dealing with pesticides, which brings me to Amendment 78 in the name of my noble friend.

I am told by Nick Mole of Pesticides Action Network that farmers can spray right up to the boundary—yes, right up to your garden boundary, bush, fence or wall. I am also told that not only can you use Roundup when doing so but you can spray with even potentially more hazardous and dangerous pesticides. I have to confess that when he told me this, I simply could not believe it and had to ask him to repeat what he had said. Furthermore, I am told that it is permissible under EU pesticide regimes, which have been described to me as not perfect but some of the best in the world. So, we now have climate change, plastic pollution and pesticides all destroying the planet while we stand and bicker over whether environmental protection is too high a price to pay.

This brings me to the national action plan, the consultation, the proposed review and the price we now need to pay. In my mind, the whole debate comes down to the risk approach versus the precautionary approach. We need to reject any risk approach that dilutes our pesticide regimes. We need far clearer pesticide reduction targets. We need a levy on farmers based on levels of toxicity. We need a chemicals regulatory regime with far tougher enforcement, which probably means splitting up the existing regime. We need a review of both the voluntary initiative and the immunity forum, both of which have been described to me as inadequate.

With Dr Bill Fakes in mind—sadly, he died from pesticide poisoning in 2003—we need a complete review of the spraying of pesticides near buildings used for human habitation and for work. We also need new law specifying minimum distances during the application of pesticides—all in Amendment 78, as mentioned by my noble friend Lord Whitty. That is what Dr Fakes wanted. It would be a suitable epitaph to his lifetime’s work on occupational diseases and their cancer-related conditions if the amendment were to pass today. If Amendment 78 had been mine, I would have liked to have called it to “the Fakes amendment” in recognition of the work he did in this area, but of course it is not mine. Still, I hope my noble friend Lord Whitty, who is equally passionate on these matters, does not mind and understands the position I have taken.

Photo of Lord Marlesford Lord Marlesford Conservative 2:15 pm, 22nd September 2020

My Lords, I declare my farming interest in Suffolk as in the register.

We are debating a number of amendments that could loosely be described as antipesticide. I am afraid I cannot support them because they would end up making the task of food production, which is the primary responsibility of the farmer, both harder and more expensive. As I have pointed out before, in Committee, some 70% of the taxable profit of farmers is composed of Brussels money; on my own farm the average figure over 14 years was 67%. As has been pointed out many times, switching money from the present system to environmental obligations inevitably reduces profitability, and it is in that context that we should consider these amendments.

I yield to no one in my devotion to sustainable and responsible farming that protects the environment and, indeed, enhances landscape, which in general is manmade—that is, made by farmers. I served three terms on the old Countryside Commission, two terms on the Rural Development Commission and five years as national chair of CPRE. A couple of years ago, I retired as president of the Suffolk Preservation Society after 20 years. I mention all this because, all too often, farmers are condemned without justification as people who are interested only in profit and short cuts and are not considerate.

We must make use of safe new technology when it is available, and this includes pesticides. Over the years, these chemicals have been more and more carefully tested and controlled to protect humans and animals, and all life in the environment. Many of the standards, rules and regulations on the use of chemicals are crucial; they must and will continue. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, has just said that she would like all pesticides to be banned entirely, but, frankly, that is quite impractical.

I will give two examples where, lacking full justification and presumably formed on the precautionary principle—the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, has just mentioned this; it is all too often an excuse for sloppy thinking—the rules have actually been harmful to economic farming. These include rules on the use of treatments for seeds to grow two important UK crops, which are now banned. The first is on the use of a chemical called Cruiser for the treatment of sugar beet seeds to protect the crop from the devastating effects of a disease called virus yellows. This problem was mentioned a few moments ago by the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington.

The second example is on the use of neonicotinoids for the seed of oilseed rape before it is planted to protect it from flea beetles, which can—and do—more than halve the yield. The ban on this seed treatment has led many farmers in the UK to give up growing oilseed rape. Of course, this merely means that the product is imported from Canada and the United States, where the bans do not exist. Obviously, I would have thought that there is no way in which the treatment of seeds under the ground can damage insects such as bees and butterflies, which feast on the nectar of a crop above the ground.

Of course, we must treat and use all chemicals with the greatest care and respect, but they are a crucial component of modern farming. I fear that these amendments are too wide and go too far, which is why I cannot support them.

Photo of Lord Taylor of Holbeach Lord Taylor of Holbeach Conservative

My Lords, I hope I can contribute to this debate by drawing on my farming interests and my experience. Of course, some of the latter is now history: I remember personally hot water treating daffodil bulbs in mercurial dips and, in my part of the world, there was widespread use of aerial spraying. Quite rightly, we live in very different times, as all of us using chemical applications have become more aware. The prohibition of noxious and dangerous chemicals, such as DDT, is well known, and all farmers and growers have an awareness of selectivity in their use of chemical sprays and dips. The use of broad-spectrum sprays is now rare, and most applications are for specific purposes.

Noble Lords will know, as a result of this debate, that a robust regulatory system of comprehensive scientific assessments is in place to ensure that pesticides are not used where their use may harm human or animal health or pose unacceptable risks to the environment. All these regulations include operator risk as well as risk to the general public. Assessments are carried out by a large team of specialist scientists at the Health and Safety Executive, and independent expert advice is provided by the UK Expert Committee on Pesticides. This system derives from EU Regulation (EC) No 1107/2009, which sets the rules for assessing and authorising pesticides, and Regulation (EC) No 396/2005, which sets limits for pesticide residues in food. All of these regulations will be carried over in full to UK law at the end of the transition period.

This brings me to the specific amendments in this group, and I have a great deal of time for all the signatories to them. The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, is a marvellous contributor to this House; I like, admire and enjoy listening to her, but it must be a long time since she was on a modern arable farm. Nowadays, she would see the precision with which sprays and chemicals are used; she would see the field margins adjacent to water courses and the headland nature strips. She would see modern sprayers, which bear no relation to the primitive things I used, with variable flow, nozzles and height. The operation of this kit is a highly skilled job and must be performed by a trained operator.

Farmers are a generous lot, but they do not spray their neighbours’ fields for them; neither do they spray the hedgerows, nor a neighbouring resident’s lawn. If noble Lords ever sought a contract with a multiple retailer—or even a third party who supplies a supermarket or chain—they would appreciate the high standards of husbandry and record-keeping that are required. Most farmers belong to accreditation groups as a consequence. When times are normal, I hope that the noble Baroness will join other noble Lords to visit our farm or, alternatively, attend a local LEAF Open Farm Sunday. Many people do. On our centennial open day last year, we had 500 visitors. If she stayed overnight, she would hear the sprayer go past between 5 and 6 in the morning, when winds are calm just before dawn, because that is the prime time to spray.

The thing that really upsets my nephew—he is responsible for our farming and growing and is active in many local farming groups and the drainage board—is that these amendments give the impression of a lack of trust. I will not repeat his critique of the well-intended but nightmare-inducing bureaucracy of the proposals in this group. We have over 100 fields on our farm plan, for example, and I have to tell the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, that our whole farm, except for 11 fields, is near one or two of the prohibited areas that he lists. How are noxious and persistent weeds and fungal infections going to be controlled with his measures in place?

I hope that my voice from the farm makes it clear that the use of pesticides, fungicides and other chemicals is not taken lightly by the industry and that the authors of these amendments will realise that, if we want more from our farmers in every way, we should maintain our confidence in them. This Bill will encourage farmers and growers, but we should not pass these amendments if we want the House and Parliament to retain their trust.

Photo of Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, who has reminded us of the regulatory system in place at the Health and Safety Executive and given some examples of the impacts these amendments might have on farmers. I have added my name to Amendment 76, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, and to Amendment 78 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. I am grateful to both for their detailed and excellent introductions to this topic.

The use of pesticides was mentioned at Second Reading and in Committee. It is a topic which raises a great deal of concern among those living in the countryside and rural areas. Farmers spray their crops with pesticides to protect them from pests and diseases. However, some farmers—not all—do not exercise care when doing this, and their chemicals drift over neighbouring lands and properties, as the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, mentioned. These chemicals can be extremely toxic and for citizens to breathe them in is likely to have a very adverse effect, especially for those already suffering from respiratory diseases. It is not unreasonable for those likely to suffer from pesticide drift to be notified by the farmer of the fact that they are planning to spray their crops on a certain day at a certain time, so that neighbours may stay indoors or be elsewhere during the process. Amendment 78 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, is specific about the type of buildings which farmers would be prohibited from spraying near. It is essential that our young children should be protected from inhalation of toxic chemicals. Their lungs are fragile. Hospitals where the sick and chronically ill will be cared for by NHS staff should be similarly protected.

New pesticides and chemicals are being developed continually. It is important that all are tested extensively before being used in open countryside and close to human habitation. As a country, we are much more aware than previously of the dangers of toxic chemicals to our health. Like many in your Lordships’ House, I can remember when you knew when a farmer was spraying with DDT, as you could smell it on the wind as soon as you stepped outside—the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, referred to DDT. Strong chemicals may have a smell, but others will have hardly any. The absence of smell could lull farming communities into a false sense of security. Far better to test extensively before allowing wholesale use. We must learn from our experience of sheep dips, as referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, gave us a salutary example of the impact of chemicals on somebody that he knew. I also support the amendment of the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, and note the comments of the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington.

On previous occasions, the Minister has referred to the integrated pest management strategy. The harm that chemicals and pesticides do to people and animals must be minimised. It is not always easy to wash such chemicals off fresh fruit before it is eaten. Not everyone adheres to the very small print on the packets of fruit or vegetables saying “wash before use”. Often, it is assumed that cooking will deal with any substances on the skin of the produce.

On Sunday, our church had its first physical service for months. We all congregated, separated by two metres, to celebrate harvest. We could not sing the traditional harvest hymns, but the organist played them and we followed the words on our service sheets. I was struck by the words of “Come ye thankful people, come”:

“First the blade and then the ear,

Then the full corn shall appear.”

This is what every farmer hopes for in his crops, but it is not achieved without much effort, and often with the use of pesticides. I understand and support farmers in their efforts to raise good crops, but they must be healthy and must not damage the health of those living close to the fields. Similarly, agroecology and organic practices must be preserved from being contaminated with pesticides and chemicals.

I hope that the Minister has some encouraging news for us, and I note that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, is minded to divide the House. We on our Benches will support him if he does.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 2:30 pm, 22nd September 2020

My Lords, I begin by referencing my interests at Rothamsted Research, as recorded in the register. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, my noble friend Lord Whitty and the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, for their amendments. They have all given powerful examples of the public health concerns that arise from close contact with pesticides. As the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay said, sadly, all too often our experience has been that the health problems come to light when the damage has already been done. You cannot blame the public for their scepticism when they are assured that chemicals are safe, because the reality all too often appears further down the line.

My noble friend Lord Whitty specifically raises concerns about the impact on those living and working adjacent to fields which are regularly sprayed. Farm workers have the details of the chemicals involved and, we hope, the appropriate protective clothing, but no such provision is made for the local population, so the provision in my noble friend’s amendment for a minimum distance to be set by regulation between private land being sprayed and nearby residential areas seems eminently sensible.

When we debated this in Committee, we argued for research into alternative methods of pest and disease control, in keeping with the wider aspirations of the Bill to deliver integrated pest management and greater biodiversity. We also argued that targets should be set for the reduction in pesticide use. This becomes eminently achievable as precision farming techniques become more widespread, and these issues were rightly raised by the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, in speaking to his amendment. I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, that what he is describing is best practice, not universal practice, and this is where the problems lie.

In Committee, the Minister confirmed that once we have left the EU at the end of the year, we will take responsibility for our own decisions on pesticide use in the UK. She also confirmed that the Government will consult on a national action plan to reduce pesticide use later this year, so it would be helpful if the noble Lord could update your Lordships on the timetable for that consultation and the progress to date. Can he also confirm that any recommendations will continue to be based on the precautionary principle?

In the meantime, the challenge of my noble friend Lord Whitty’s amendment is more immediate and pressing. Whatever the Government’s overall plans for pesticide reduction, there are likely to be continuing problems for those living close to fields that are being sprayed. This is an immediate issue of public health protection. I therefore hope that the Minister is able to provide some reassurance to my noble friend that action to protect those residents is being planned as part of the wider review. If he is unable to satisfy my noble friend, I make it clear that if my noble friend pushes it to a vote, we will support him. In the meantime, I look forward to the Minister’s response.

Photo of Lord Gardiner of Kimble Lord Gardiner of Kimble The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

My Lords, I am most grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate, bringing with them experience of agriculture or medical specialism. I declare my farming interests as set out in the register.

Turning to the amendments of the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, I should first say to all noble Lords that the Government are committed to protecting people and the environment from the potential risk posed by pesticides. As I will explain, the Government have a robust regulatory system in place to ensure that pesticides are not used where that may harm human health. The use of pesticides is allowed only where a comprehensive scientific assessment shows that people will not be harmed. The scientific risk assessment carried out before pesticides are authorised covers all situations where people may be exposed to pesticides, including risks to residents and bystanders from the volatilisation of the pesticide’s active substance after application of the product. Products found to have an unacceptable risk from exposure would not be authorised.

The risks of possible pesticide spray-drift from pesticide use are assessed before a new pesticide product is authorised. This includes the effect of different factors, including wind speed, and the results are used to set specific statutory conditions of use for that pesticide as we only authorise products that will not have any harmful effect on human health.

The label on a pesticide product is the main source of information for the user of that pesticide. Phrases such as those listed in Amendment 76 relate to the classification of the concentrated product rather than the diluted spray. The information is required to minimise the user’s exposure and to ensure that they use the product safely and effectively. All users of pesticides are required to follow the statutory conditions of use for any pesticides they use. They should also follow the guidance contained in the Code of Practice for Using Plant Protection Products. The code requires that all users take reasonable precautions to protect the health of people, creatures and plants, to safeguard the environment, and, in particular, to avoid pollution of water. The code specifies that users must ensure that pesticides are only applied in the appropriate weather conditions with the correct, properly adjusted equipment, and that applications must be confined to the area intended to be treated. Collectively, these controls ensure that people are properly protected, based on appropriate risk assessments. They allow pesticides to be used where this is safe and will help UK farmers to provide a supply of high-quality affordable food.

The Government are committed to monitoring the impacts of the use of agricultural pesticides. Indeed, monitoring schemes are in place to report on the level of usage of each pesticide and on residue levels in food. They also collect and consider reports of possible harm to people or to the environment. We will continue to review the monitoring arrangements to ensure that they remain effective in supporting the authorisation process.

Turning to Amendment 80, I am most grateful to my noble friend for raising integrated pest management and the more precise use of pesticides, including through new technologies and new concepts, to which my noble friend Lady McIntosh referred. Pesticide users can reduce the need for pesticides, further reducing risks to the environment, combating pest resistance and supporting agricultural productivity. This is very important for all farmers: pest resistance is another issue we must contend with. The Government have made a commitment in the 25-year environment plan to putting integrated pest management at the heart of their approach. There are advances in this area that we should all champion.

A number of points have been made by noble Lords, but I particularly want to pick up the matter raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, and the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and deal with the precise issue of lacuna and gap. That is precisely why the upcoming consultation on the draft updated UK National Action Plan for the Sustainable Use of Pesticides will set out how the Government will deliver our 25-year environment plan commitment. I also say to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and my noble friend the Duke of Wellington that as part of this, the Government are considering the extent to which targets may support the delivery of integrated pest management. The consultation on the national action plan will be launched later this year and will set out these plans in more detail. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Young of Norwood Green, that in Committee we had an extensive debate on gene editing and as I said then, we believe that the best way forward is to have a full and proper consultation on those matters.

I turn now to Amendment 78. I was very pleased to meet the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, to discuss these matters. The Government agree that pesticides should not be used where they may harm human health or pose unacceptable risks to the environment. By pesticides, we mean all the plant protection products commonly used in agriculture and beyond, including herbicides, fungicides and insecticides. A robust regulatory system is in place to deliver that objective and to make sure that an authorised product, used correctly, does not harm people. As has been said by my noble friend Lord Taylor of Holbeach, that system derives from EU law and, in particular, Regulation 1107/2009, setting out the rules for assessing and authorising pesticides, and Regulation 396/2005, setting limits for pesticide residues in food. All this EU legislation will be carried over in full into UK law at the end of the transition period.

I say particularly to the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, that the use of pesticides is allowed only where a comprehensive scientific assessment shows that it will have no immediate or delayed harmful effect on human health, including that of vulnerable groups. This issue was also referred to my noble friend Lord Taylor of Holbeach. I emphasise this because I well understand the spirit of what has been said by many noble Lords about pesticides. The assessment is carried out by a large team of more than 100 scientists in the Health and Safety Executive. After the transition period, the demands on this team will grow as it takes on tasks currently centralised within the EU. Staffing levels will therefore be increased and this process in already ongoing. Independent expert advice is provided by the UK Expert Committee on Pesticides. Most members of the expert committee are eminent academic or other specialists in fields relevant to aspects of the risk assessment. A similar technical body, the Expert Committee on Pesticide Residues in Food, oversees the substantial programme of monitoring and enforcement for pesticides in food and feed. I should note that the assessment specifically addresses the situation of people who live near to where pesticides are used. The assessment of risks is rigorous, and authorisation is frequently refused. I should also emphasise that authorisations are regularly reviewed.

I was, of course, saddened to hear about previous fatalities; the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, spoke with obvious feeling about someone he knew well. The regulation of pesticides dates back to the mid-1980s in the UK and the early 1990s in the EU. Since then, it has been tightened. Many pesticides that used to be permitted for use are now not authorised or are substantially restricted. Effects on rural residents are specifically considered, as I said, as part of the scientific assessment process. All pesticide users are required by law—the Plant Protection Products (Sustainable Use) Regulations 2012—to take all reasonable precautions to protect human health and the environment and to confine the application of the product to the area intended to be treated. When using a pesticide in areas used by the public or vulnerable groups, including those close to healthcare facilities or in parks, school grounds and playgrounds, operators must also ensure that the amount used and frequency of use is as low as reasonably practicable.

As I have already said, all users of pesticides are required to follow the statutory conditions of use for every pesticide they use. These conditions typically include the frequency, timing and amount of application. They may also, for example, include protective equipment for operators and buffer zones to protect the environment. Guidance on the use of pesticides is also provided in the Code of Practice for Using Plant Protection Products.

The Government’s priority is the protection of people and the environment. Exacting measures are in place through our domestic legislation and the specialists we have in place at the HSE. Pesticides are important in helping farmers produce the food we need—a point made by my noble friends Lord Marlesford, Lord Taylor of Holbeach and Lady McIntosh, based on experience. We also need pesticides to protect infrastructure such as roads and railways. As my noble friend Lady McIntosh highlighted, in extending its scope to any pesticide and any building, the amendment is very sweeping and could well have undesirable and disproportionate effects. It would prevent the use of pesticides that are important for agricultural and horticultural productivity but pose no danger whatsoever to public health, such as products used in a permanent greenhouse. It could also, for example, prevent the use of pesticides for the effective control of Japanese knotweed. I pluck that example because it is a very difficult plant to control close to buildings. Because the amendment extends to

“any building or open space used for work”, it would also appear to prohibit the use of pesticides in agriculture entirely.

I do not believe that that was what the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, intended, but it is my duty to say to the House that, having taken legal advice, this is how our lawyers interpret this amendment. If any particular pesticide needs to be restricted from use close to buildings or spaces used for work or recreation, that can be done through the authorisation system. We believe that the effect of the amendment would be to impose an unnecessary blanket restriction.

I spent a little time explaining the statutory bodies, requirements and protections for contemporary use of pesticides. I am well aware of previous times when pesticides were used and the rigour with which, through the EU and our domestic journey, we have addressed them. It is why I have spent some time explaining the expertise available to this country, on which we all rely. So I say this with all sincerity. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, has said he wishes to put this to the test—I do not want to take away his thunder, as I respect the noble Lord. But, having taken legal advice, I have sought to outline why I could not advise your Lordships to vote for an amendment that is well meaning but does pose difficulties. In the meantime, I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, is in a position to withdraw her amendment.

Photo of Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 2:45 pm, 22nd September 2020

My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for the detail that he has afforded to this group of amendments and for his reply. I will make some very short comments. He speaks about consultation going forward; that is precisely the consultation required to inform the regulations to which the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, speaks. He talks about areas around railways and wastelands, which could become wildlife sanctuaries but are not at the moment because of the way they are handled.

I assure the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, that the lack of trust is not in farmers but in the pesticide manufacturers. The spraying kit that he is talking about is incredibly expensive, as I know from seeing it at the Royal Welsh Show. It is eye-wateringly expensive and costs a lot to maintain, so is not within the reach of every farmer.

I do not want to waste time discussing my amendments. I point out that the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, has rightly said that the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, is flexible. It is simply about making regulations; it does not state what has to be in them, in terms of distance or children, and they would go to affirmative resolution. Therefore, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment and give notice that, in the event of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, being unable to call a vote on his Amendment 78, I will do so on his behalf.

Amendment 75 withdrawn.

Amendments 76 and 77 not moved.