Amendment 52

Environment Bill - Report (3rd Day) – in the House of Lords at 4:45 pm on 13 September 2021.

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Lord Whitty:

Moved by Lord Whitty

52: After Clause 73, insert the following new Clause—“Air quality and human health in rural areas: application of pesticides(1) The Secretary of State must by regulations make provision prohibiting the application of pesticides for the purposes of agriculture or horticulture near—(a) buildings used for human habitation, and(b) public or private buildings and associated open spaces where members of the public may be present, including but not limited to—(i) schools and childcare nurseries, and(ii) hospitals and health care facilities.(2) Regulations under subsection (1) must specify a minimum distance from any of the locations listed under subsection (1) to be maintained during the application of any pesticide.(3) In determining the distance in subsection (2) the Secretary of State must be guided by the optimum distance that would make a significant difference in air quality for people using the locations listed in subsection (1).(4) In this section “public building” includes any building used for the purpose of education. (5) Regulations under this section are subject to the affirmative procedure.”Member’s explanatory statementIn order to improve air quality and thereby protect human health and the environment in rural areas, this new Clause would require the Secretary of State to make regulations to prohibit the application of chemical pesticides near buildings and open spaces used by residents and members of the public.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Labour 5:00, 13 September 2021

My Lords, this amendment should be recognised as absolutely necessary and straightforward but it is one, unfortunately, that the Government have resisted. Like the air quality debate that we have just had, it concerns human health, but it also has wider environmental implications. The detrimental effect of chemical pesticide spraying on those who live, work and congregate close to where spraying is carried out is well established. The medical effects are now well known—although, as the Minister himself had to admit the other week, not the particular effects of specific combinations of chemicals included in the cocktail of chemicals that are often sprayed these days.

In earlier stages of this Bill and the Agriculture Bill, the detrimental effects of spraying on individuals and families over long periods have been spelled out in great detail; they are familiar to GPs and medics here and around the world. Some effects are acute and some short term, such as breathing difficulties; some are utterly chronic, and some are lethal. The most vulnerable are those right next to the spraying and, in particular, those who are subject to repeated doses because they live there.

Noble Lords will be aware of the views from most scientists, the royal commission and, broadly speaking, global medical opinion. Noble Lords will also have been made aware of particular concerns of individuals who have been affected and have suffered chronic ill health and eventual disability because of this exposure. I have met some of the victims and have heard of large numbers of others.

It is the essential human issue that we are attempting to address in this amendment, but there are, of course, wider arguments. In the terms of some of the responses during Committee and through the passage of the Agriculture Bill, the arguments got mixed up. It is true that many people, including myself, would wish to see the eventual phasing out of all chemical pesticides. The numbers of people wishing for that outcome apparently, according to the news last week, include President Macron. However, irrespective of my views on the longer term, this is a very specific issue, for now. It means that we would protect from current pesticides the health and well-being of literally thousands, or potentially hundreds of thousands, of rural residents in this country. This amendment is not about the bigger picture; it is very specifically about the protection of our rural residents in their homes, gardens, schools and public places. It is an in principle amendment, leaving details subject to the regulatory process. Protection for our rural population is essential, but the regulatory process will obviously allow opinions on the detail. If we adopt this amendment tonight, that process will start now.

Unfortunately, the Government have found all sorts of reasons for resisting this amendment, or a similar amendment, starting with the early stages of the Agriculture Bill. Ministers have adduced a whole range of metamorphosing reasons for opposing the amendment. At first, they said that it was unnecessary because Ministers already had the power to make regulations on distancing of spraying of pesticides and, at that time, they sort of did—but it was under EU law, which left it discretionary on the member state to implement it. We never used that discretion and, with the end of the transition period, that power disappeared; it was not transposed into UK law. The reality is that that power had been there for over a decade and successive Governments had never used it; that is why we need a specific amendment requiring the Government to introduce regulations to implement that principle and not leave permissive powers mouldering on the statue book for another two decades.

The Government then argued that this country’s licensing system for pesticides was world beating—to use that phrase—and did not need any improvements, and that the danger of residents spraying pesticides in their houses and gardens was negligible these days. Yet the Minister was unable to tell the House what tests were made on cocktails of pesticides and, also, on medical evidence, which in particular my noble friend—or, I should say, my noble co-signatory—Lady Finlay adduced during the passage of the Agriculture Bill and this Bill.

There are multiple incidents of acute harm, burns and breathing problems but, far more disturbingly, there are large numbers of cases where long-term effects are seen on neurological and immune systems, lung function and foetal health. These are dangerous. Of course, we are protecting other people; those who use the pesticides are protected by very strict health and safety regulations, wear protective clothing and are usually within a cab. Consumers are protected by very strict rules about pesticide residues being left on vegetables and fruit that reach our shops and markets. The people who are not protected are those who live in our countryside, right next to where this spraying is carried out. I find that omission appalling, and I do not understand why the Government are so reluctant to do something about it. I hope that I have the wholehearted support of this House in instructing the Government to do something about it. As I say, the details of that can be sorted out in regulation, but let us at least make the principle clear tonight.

In Committee, I refrained from quoting anybody, but a couple of examples caught my eye when I was going through this the other night. One woman said:

“My family have always lived next to fields sprayed with chemicals. My husband and my son died from neurological diseases. Our neighbouring farmer and his wife both have MS”— and, she says, it is all down to those chemicals. Another said:

“I am sprayed with cocktails of pesticides by my neighbour, a fruit farmer, around 20 times per year. As a toxicologist I know that these agents are not meant to be used anywhere near residences and yet my home is covered with these chemicals every time he sprays”.

The Government themselves recognise this issue. In the codes of practice, they require farmers and others to notify nearby premises, but that is not enforced, and, in most cases, it does not happen. There is no such notification and, even when it does happen, there is no notification of what precisely is being sprayed because, by and large, by that stage, the particular application is not clear. However, it is clear everywhere else; it is clear to the medics and to the manufacturers, who put very strong warnings against inhalation or skin contact on the containers for these pesticides—and rightly so, because they are being responsible. I am asking the Government to take their responsibilities at least as seriously and today adopt an amendment that will give some hope to those families who historically have seriously suffered debilitation and sometimes worse, and to ensure that it does not affect families in the next generation.

I hope that the Minister will change course on this issue, accepting the need to look at it again and to take action to introduce regulation. Unfortunately, successive Governments have not done that, which is why I require the amendment to instruct the Government to take action. I hope that the House fully supports me on because too many people’s lives have been blighted to ignore this problem. I hope that the House can support this amendment today.

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

My Lords, I have put my name to the amendment, and I support it very strongly. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, will test the opinion of the House.

We have major problems with these chemicals. First, our testing regime tests single pesticides, but does not look at combinations or mixtures of pesticides. Secondly, people are required to notify local premises prior to spraying, but there are two difficulties with this: as downwind is not necessarily a short distance, these chemicals can travel very long distances, and you cannot predict the direction the wind is blowing. Another difficulty is that they sit on the land on crops, and when the sun comes out, they vaporise. Even though people might have been warned about spraying, the vaporisation means that the amount in the air goes up again and it is spread still further towards people living in the vicinity.

I have a list of references from different parts of the scientific literature which I will not go through in detail now, as it is not the time. But I point out that pesticides can cause deformities in unborn offspring, cancers, and mutations that poison the nervous system and block the natural defences of the immune system. The irreversible effects are permanent and cannot be changed once they have occurred. I have looked after an awful lot of cancer patients, many coming from farming communities in Wales. When they are young and ask me about exposure to chemicals, it is very difficult to have that conversation, because by then they, or maybe their child, is already so seriously ill or dying, that everything is irreversible. We cannot carry on doing this and polluting the environment without thinking again. Article 3(14) of EU Regulation 1107/2009 defines rural residents living in the locality of pesticide-sprayed crops as “vulnerable groups,” and they are recognised as having high pesticide exposure over the long term.

The side effects of the individual chemical agents are quite scary. When one looks at the cumulative effects long term, we cannot continue to ignore them. The effect on rural residents will go on and on, even for those living at sizeable distances. I hope that the House will reflect on the debate we had on the Agriculture Bill, when the Minister at the time, the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner, told the Committee that we need a population in good health to cope with the threat of infection during the pandemic. We cannot carry on having a rural community that is being poisoned by its own actions in an attempt to supply us with food which is cheap and probably underpriced for the value which should go to farmers for responsible farming. I hope that this House will support this amendment.

Photo of Lord Randall of Uxbridge Lord Randall of Uxbridge Conservative

My Lords, I strongly support Amendment 52 to which I have added my name, and the very important contributions, particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. I am of course passionate because this is a matter of great importance. As I have said previously, on both the Agriculture Bill and in Committee for this Bill, we have a history of underplaying certain risks to human health, which we only find out about later. I am thinking of tobacco, asbestos, air quality—which we have just been discussing —and various things which cause harm. It must be obvious that these chemical pesticides—because of the reasons given by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff—are nothing but harmful.

I am particularly concerned about cocktails of chemicals. I am not a chemist and did not do much science at school, but I know that if one mixes certain chemicals, they have a completely different effect and can be even more toxic. Do these chemicals accumulate in the soil, and not simply vaporise, as the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, said? That is something we should be looking at.

If it were one spray, it would be bad enough, but most of these people are subject to this on a regular basis. We hear that there is almost constant spraying, in various seasons. I thought that there was a principle that it should be down to the producers to provide proof that this is safe, and not the other way around, meaning that we must prove that it is harmful.

I will also speak briefly to Amendment 53, in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville and Lady Jones of Whitchurch. While Amendment 52 is about human health, Amendment 53 is about the natural world and insect health, which has an effect on human health. It is the same principle—we do not understand what we are spraying, and we must.

Finally, Amendment 123 concerns the same thing: it is about lead polluting the soil and in the food we eat. I have read in Farmers Weekly—not my usual journal of choice—that flour millers are left disappointed finding lead shot contamination in milling wheat and cereal grains. This has almost certainly come from people shooting vermin with lead shot in barns, containers and grain stores. In this instance, the customer had to pressure the miller to replace the domestic wheat with imports in the flour blend to prevent a repeat incident. We will be hearing more about lead.

On all these counts, we must push the Government more, because they are almost at the point of doing this. We should be taking this incredibly seriously, or future generations will ask “Why on earth did they not do something then?”

Photo of Lord Browne of Ladyton Lord Browne of Ladyton Labour 5:15, 13 September 2021

My Lords, Amendment 123 is in my name and those of my noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch, the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, who has already indicated his support, and the noble Earl, Lord Shrewsbury; I am extremely grateful for their support. It is a pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord Whitty, and I make a passing reference to the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville. There are compelling cases for both their amendments too, but I do not intend to speak to them.

The debate in Committee revealed strong support from all parts of the House for this amendment—indeed, I cannot recall anyone who spoke against it. Even the Minister himself spoke for the amendment in part, when he was persuaded by a phrase used by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, that the amendment was a no-brainer. To that extent, he accepted it, but we will come to the Government’s resistance in a moment.

This amendment proposes a new clause which provides an effective regulation to protect wildlife, the environment and human health by replacing toxic lead ammunition, principally for shooting game, with alternatives. It is intended to provide regulatory protection for wildlife and the environment and to improve human health and protect humans by replacing toxic lead gunshot with much safer alternatives. It also intends to ensure a supply of healthy game for the market and meet the requirements of shooting, food retail and conservation stakeholders.

This amendment is not precisely the one that was before your Lordships’ House in Committee. The date of its provisions coming into effect has changed slightly to 31 July 2023—a move of a few months in 2023—to respond to arguments and advice that I received directly and indirectly from ammunition manufacturers that it would be more appropriate not to seek to ban the use of lead ammunition in the middle of a game season, when people had already stocked up, as it were, for the purpose of shooting. It seemed to be a compelling argument. They were on board. They also said, quite understandably, that if we are to make this change, there needs to be compulsion that has effect and is logical so that they can ramp up the manufacturing. So, there is a change in that respect.

I do not intend to go into all the 30 years of evidence there is that we should not be doing this, but we know that lead is a poison. We ban it in many other areas of life. It seems crazy that we allow it to be used in this way when it gets directly into the food chain. In his response in Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, confirmed that the Government want action to ban the use of lead in a way which harms the environment and human or animal health. He is a lifelong—certainly adult life-long—proponent of that and makes no bones about it. He rejected an amendment of this nature because it was not comprehensive and did not deal with the issue of lead in target shooting and other parts of that element of the sport.

The Minister supported the Government’s preferred approach, which is to use the GB REACH process—I say the “GB REACH process” because the EU REACH process applies to Northern Ireland and, indeed, may be being debated in your Lordships’ Grand Committee—which, in my view and in the view of many other noble Lords, will take an unconscionable length of time and will unnecessarily expose tens, if not thousands, of children to potential harm. I remind your Lordships’ House that the Minister, Rebecca Pow, said in launching the REACH process:

“A large volume of lead ammunition is discharged every year over the countryside, causing harm to the environment, wildlife and people”,

and that

“Addressing the impacts of lead ammunition will mark a significant step forward in helping to protect wildlife, people, and the environment.”

In concluding, the Minister offered the noble Earl, Lord Shrewsbury, a meeting. It took place on 5 August with the Minister, officials and the noble Lord, Lord Randall, present. I got an indirect invitation to the meeting, which I also attended. Since then, I understand that the noble Lord, Lord Randall, has had further communication with the Bill team, as has the noble Earl, Lord Shrewsbury. I shall leave both noble Lords to share with your Lordships’ House what was discussed, if it can be shared. I thank the Minister and his team for their engagement with this process, and I thank the noble Lords for ensuring that I was included.

But I understand that the Bill team’s position on lead shot is that the time it will take for the GB REACH restriction dossier to be prepared is required to build a comprehensive case for the restriction. I think that is one of their arguments. They also argue that this requires up-to-date GB-wide specific evidence and that the Government need to make sure that the final decision on this is watertight from an evidential and legal perspective. I have not practised law for a long time, but I respect this position and understand it. But I do not accept without evidence that this is necessarily a block to dealing with what we can deal with today, which is harm to people, animals and the environment. I will come back to that.

So where do we stand today? First, lead is a poison and should be banned, except where it is a necessity to use it and there is no alternative, where it should be closely regulated. That is what we do in every other aspect of our lives. We have known that lead shot has been poisoning animals, humans and the environment for decades. We have reached the stage where, in the face of the comprehensive knowledge that we now have of the value of the environment and its biodiversity to every single aspect of our life, something has to be done about this. The obvious thing is for its use in a way that creates a poisonous effect to be banned.

There already exists a comprehensive case for this amendment—supported by specific GB evidence over decades—to protect human health, wildlife health and the environment. There exists support for the need for the change from all major stakeholders: shooters, game dealers, distributors, retailers, scientists, conservationists, and even the Houses of Parliament. Both Houses, through their committees, unanimously agreed to ban the sale of lead-shot game in our restaurants so that we do not poison ourselves. It has support from Parliament already. I have to say I find it difficult to explain to people outside why we cannot ban for their consumption what we have banned for our own. This does not seem a tenable position to be in.

There already exists acknowledgement that alternatives exist and are effective. They have existed for 25 years in Denmark. Not only do they have a burgeoning shooting business—in fact, my country, Scotland, has lots of Danes shooting there in all the shooting seasons who tell me that they do it in Denmark very successfully, and they win medals from sports shooting targets with steel ammunition. There already exists an acknowledgement of the need for change to support a market for healthy game meat, which we should encourage people to eat. So there are strong socioeconomic arguments too.

Any further unnecessary delay will result in the death and suffering of hundreds of thousands more birds, the risk of irreversibly reducing the IQs of thousands—possibly tens of thousands—more children, and the deposit of thousands of tonnes more lead shot into the environment, adding to the existing toxic legacy, all of which are unnecessary and fully avoidable.

The case for this amendment is made and is clear cut. Dealing with this now will not only save time and taxpayers’ money by avoiding another unnecessary review but give GB REACH more valuable time to research and debate the issues of lead bullets and target shooting, for which there is certainly a case but where we appreciate that more work with stakeholders may well be required.

Finally, my understanding is that it has been suggested from “sources” that the GB REACH process can achieve the objective of a comprehensive ban with effect from 31 July 2023, the date on which this amendment is due to come into force. If the Minister is inclined to offer that in his response, it will have to be considered, and I am certainly willing to do so. I know that those who support the amendment and have put their name to it are also willing to consider that as a solution to this problem.

However, I am confident that if I test the opinion of this House, a majority will support this amendment. There are two possibilities for avoiding that, as I see them. The first alternative is that, beyond the assertion that GB REACH is the only way forward, the Minister can point me and my noble friends who support this amendment to the legal provisions that support this conclusion and not just keep asserting it without doing so. I have not yet seen a reasoned argument of this nature. It has been absent from all the discussions I have been involved in thus far with the Bill team, either directly or secondarily. I have it on good authority from lawyers working on it at the moment that it is not necessary to do it down that route and that this route, which the Danes use, could be used, too, with effect and without challenge.

Secondly, if the Minister gives a strong enough commitment to persuade the House that there is a strong probability that there will be a comprehensive ban on the use of lead ammunition by a date around the one which we propose in this amendment, or by a date certain, I will consider not having to further embarrass the Government by dividing the House on this issue.

Photo of The Earl of Shrewsbury The Earl of Shrewsbury Conservative 5:30, 13 September 2021

My Lords, I am very pleased to support Amendment 123, from the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton. I declare an interest, as on the record from previous debates on this Bill. I will not cover again all the points I made both at Second Reading and in Committee.

It is a fact that lead is a poison. I have an enthusiasm in supporting this amendment that comes entirely from my love of the shooting sports, in particular game shooting. Noble Lords will recall that I have probably been supporting all the shooting sports in this House since I came here 40 years ago, very often as a lone voice. Shooting is not exactly something that many of your Lordships are fondly in love with. I want everything I shoot to go into the food chain for human consumption. It is good, wholesome, low-calorie, low-cholesterol food that is both nutritious and delicious.

I am a realist and a very small minority of my shooting colleagues—I do not call them friends because they are not—could not give a fig whether they sell their game into the marketplace for human consumption. So far as they are concerned, they can dispose of it by other means. I find that absolutely despicable and disgusting. There is absolutely no place in my shooting world for people like that, who taint the vast majority of the game shooting enthusiasts of this country, who behave very responsibly indeed and desire, like me, to be able to ensure a growing market of consumers for the game that we produce. That is why I am standing here, pleading with your Lordships about lead.

This amendment will not affect target and clay pigeon shooters. We do not eat targets and clay pigeons. Clay pigeon shooters and target shooters shoot 60% of all the lead shot-cartridges produced in this country. Game shooters shoot 40%. Nine shooting bodies or bodies supporting the shooting sports, including what used to be the Game Conservancy Trust—the GWCT, which my noble friend Lord Caithness and I have a lot to do with—stated some while ago that they intended voluntarily to cease shooting with lead shot. That was done about a couple of years ago, in my memory. I believe that they are now backtracking, and this is another reason why I support this amendment very strongly. The amendment provides certainty for the shooters. It gives certainty to the supermarkets, which are going to stop producing food that has lead shot in it. The stated intention of these nine bodies was to give up lead in a five-year timeframe. There is your timeframe. There is nothing wrong in giving a timeframe. It gives support to the shooters. It gives support to everybody involved with the game-producing industry. We all know then what we are doing and by when we have to do it.

My shooting friends—and I had an invitation from one very nicely this morning in the post—are all saying now, “Will you kindly stop using lead on our estates? We would like you to go and use non-toxic shot, because we cannot sell the birds at the end of this coming season to the Game Dealers Association, because it has already stated that it will not take toxic-shot birds and there goes our market entirely.”

The supermarket chains, especially Waitrose, have for quite a while now had a strategy and process whereby they are stopping accepting lead-shot and toxic-shot game. They believe that the market is going to go much better for non-toxic-shot game. Waitrose mentioned to me that it can sell 1 million more units of game a year to the consumer. That is good for shooting, and that is why I am standing here saying this.

I believe that there is no earthly, legal or operational reason why Her Majesty’s Government cannot agree to this amendment, which covers only game shooting. It does not include clay pigeons shooting, which, as I mentioned, uses by far the largest amount of lead shot in the country. The Government can take on clay pigeon shooters on a different day and take them through a consultation. It will take them years to do it, but I would like to see game shooting legislated for now.

I urge my noble friend the Minister to accept these amendments or to accept Amendment 123, because it is sensible and easy.

Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green

My Lords, I will speak first to Amendment 52, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, to which I was pleased to attach my name. It also has the cross-party and non-party support of the noble Lord, Lord Randall, and the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay. I will also briefly address the other two amendments here.

Your Lordships’ House might not be surprised to know that my arguments around Amendment 123 might be slightly differently expressed, and I might have drafted the amendment slightly differently. None the less, the fact that we are still pumping lead out into our environment is disgraceful. We hear the phrase “world-leading” a great deal. As we have heard, Denmark banned lead shot for hunting 25 years ago. California did it last year. If you look around the world, it has taken an unconscionably long time but we have just seen Algeria become the last country in the world to stop selling leaded petrol. We have known for a long time the damage lead does. We cannot justify continuing to use it in this way. This might have been an amendment for which the term “no-brainer” was invented, when you think about the fact that this is damaging the brains of children in particular. As the noble Lord, Lord Browne, said, we have banned lead-shot game here in this House but have not acted outside the House. That really cannot be defended. It is untenable.

Amendment 53 looks at protecting nature from the toxic, disastrous chemicals that are pesticides, but I really want to focus on Amendment 52. We have been debating for some time and I want to come back to briefly highlight the powerful points made particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay. Many Members of your Lordships’ House, particularly those sitting opposite, will be able to picture the scene: an air-conditioned cab with air filtration; an operator equipped with a whole range of complex, high-tech protective equipment; and a child playing in a garden right beside where the person in all that protective equipment is applying chemicals.

The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, said she sees the other side of this in her professional practice. People—sometimes young people, sometimes very young people—with cancers, with neurodegenerative diseases. Once the noble Baroness sees them, it is essentially too late. We cannot allow this to continue. This House has many times expressed its strong support for this amendment. I stress that these three amendments are not an either/or, pick-and-match lot. All these amendments should be in the Bill.

I very much hope that, given the direction of travel and where push pressure is coming from, the noble Lord will concede on Amendment 123. We have to vote. I urge the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, to put this to the vote. We have to get both Amendments 52 and 53 through. This is not an either/or option.

Photo of Baroness Boycott Baroness Boycott Crossbench

It is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett. I just want to say a few words about these chemicals and to talk about it from the point of view of the industry and cheap food.

In 1947, the manufacturers of DDT ran an advert in Time magazine showing smiling cartoon farm animals and a rosy-cheeked housewife who sang “DDT is good for me-e-e!”, along with the claim that DDT was the “benefactor of all humanity”. That same year, they had a British colonialist sprinkling DDT over a bowl of porridge and then eating it in a bid to persuade local people in east Africa that this chemical was harmless.

We can see, if we cut forward to today, that Silent Spring was written in 1962 and DDT became recognised as something that was harmful to animals, nature, biodiversity and, indeed, humans. Yet, today, we see a very different story. In 1990, we treated 45 million hectares with pesticides. By 2016, this had risen to 73 million hectares, although the actual area of crops had remained the same. However, we were putting many times more pesticides on to those same crops, on to a weakening soil, in our attempt to keep producing ever more cheap food to feed our population.

There are very familiar names in the industry—Bayer, Monsanto and Syngenta—and it is reckoned that they make about 35% of their total global revenue by selling these sorts of pesticides around the world. Farmers get trapped into that same cycle. It is something that we have to break.

This amendment is very important to me, because I feel a great distrust of the Government at the moment, for instance over the ban of neonicotinoids. They are now banned in America and across the whole of Europe; indeed, when we were still within the European Union, we banned them as well. However, we have now let them back in and they are allowed to be used on sugar beet. This feels to me like a small open door that could get bigger. I quote Dave Goulson, from the University of Sussex, who wrote a fantastic book about the decline of insects. Mentioning neonicotinoids, he says:

“The toxicity takes your breath away—just five maize seeds treated with neonicotinoids are enough to kill a grey partridge.”

No one can spray 17,000 tonnes of poison across a landscape without doing massive damage as it spreads. As the noble Lord, Lord Randall, so wisely said, we now know about DDT—and, actually, we know about this stuff too. It is no accident that it kills animals, insects and every single small thing around.

These amendments are absolutely imperative, right across so many parts of this Bill: biodiversity, habitats and human health. Also, there are other ways of doing it; there are intelligent, responsible uses of gene editing and many natural solutions to keep crops safe and ensure that we have good, healthy food that does not destroy either our planet or ourselves.

Photo of The Earl of Caithness The Earl of Caithness Conservative

My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Baroness; she has made a very powerful speech and covered a lot of the points that I wanted to raise. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, also made a powerful and passionate speech. We all know that some pesticides are lethal when applied badly or in the wrong conditions. A lot of farmers do it absolutely correctly but, sadly, a minority do not necessarily adhere to the rules or the conditions. As the food section of the United Nations has reminded us, we also need to bear in mind that crop yields currently drop by 26% to 40% if one does not have the right chemicals.

The noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, was absolutely right that there are alternatives coming through in gene editing; that must be the future. It would be an ideal situation if we could get rid of most harmful pesticides through gene editing, to keep food production up. The noble Baroness also reminded us what a complete mess we have made in our farming over past years, which has affected biodiversity, the soil and nature. A serious revolution is taking place now to correct that.

I turn to Amendment 123 and support what the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, has said. Yes, there is an informal agreement to phase out lead shot within five years, but that is too long a timescale. It is perfectly possible to do it to an earlier timescale. It would be inconvenient for some industries, I agree, but my mind goes back to when I was a Minister and we started to phase out CFCs. Industries came to my door in their droves, saying, “You cannot do this”, “We will have to rejig our plant”, “We can’t possibly do it in the timescale you are proposing.” In fact, they did it in a quicker timescale than I wanted at the time. If one gives industries a set date, they can do it; they will meet it. It is a pity that most of the steel now has to come from China, but that is another story. I support the thrust of what the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, has said, and I so agree with my noble friend Lord Shrewsbury: it is for the good of shooting that this amendment is necessary.

Photo of Lord Carrington Lord Carrington Crossbench

My Lords, I am afraid that I will add a little un-unanimity to this debate, which seems to have been completely one-sided so far. I declare my farming interests as set out in the register and note that there is a thriving apiary on my farm, to which the greatest threats are from weather and woodpeckers—if noble Lords want to know why woodpeckers, it is because they break into the hives during the winter and eat the queen bee.

Let me state for the record why we need plant protection products. Farmers would love to stop spraying, which is expensive and time-consuming, but they need to produce food in a financially viable manner. I will comment on a few things that have perhaps been taken slightly the wrong the way in this debate. First, no trained, licensed spray operator will spray a field when there is a wind. Secondly, no trained, licensed spray operator will spray in the middle of the day. Thirdly, the neonics on sugar beet that were mentioned earlier were used during a particular window to address a particular problem; there is no general licence to use this chemical.

Farmers and growers need access to safe and effective tools to protect crops from pests, diseases and weeds, so that they can continue to produce safe, affordable food and crop plants. Pesticides, called “PPPs” in the regulation, are currently an important part of the suite of integrated pest-management tools relied on to protect crops. Unnecessary restrictions on PPP use will lead only to reductions in yields and a decline in the productivity of UK agriculture. These reductions will mean an increase in imports from other parts of the world. Also, the environmental consequences of offshoring our production would mean more land being brought into cultivation, exporting our environmental footprint to countries that may be more vulnerable to climate change. This would be especially misguided given the efficiency and high standards of UK agriculture.

There is often a misconception that farmers use PPPs even though they do not need to. In reality, farmers use PPPs only when they absolutely have to, to protect our food supply against the pests, weeds and diseases that would otherwise cause us to lose 30% to 40% of our food production—I repeat, 30% to 40%. When farmers use PPPs, they ensure that they use only as much as is necessary, and they take measures to ensure that they impact only the intended crop.

When introducing his previous amendment in Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, questioned the ability of the regulatory system to protect residents living near farms. I reiterate what others have said about the strength of the regulatory system. It is among the most stringent in the world. Limits are set for the safe daily exposure of operators, residents and bystanders to PPPs. These limits are set at levels that are conservative and offer a high level of protection for human health. The current regulatory system for PPPs has been subject to a thorough assessment to ensure a high level of protection for human health, animal health and the environment.

Regarding Amendment 52, the existing regulatory system for PPPs considers the potential impact on bystanders, who are defined in the regulation as

“people who casually are located within or directly adjacent to” an area where plant protection products are applied. Residents are defined in the regulation as

“people who live, work or attend any institution near to areas that are treated with”

PPPs. There is no need for further regulation to achieve exactly the same goals.

With regard to Amendment 53, an appropriate and robust risk assessment is already carried out on all active substances before they reach the market. All products on the market have been subject to a thorough assessment to ensure a high level of protection for human health, animal health and the environment. This includes bees and other pollinators. Insecticides are by their nature toxic to bees and other pollinators. However, the way they are used ensures that the risk of exposure is minimised to levels that do no harm to bees or pollinators. As part of the regulation, an appropriate risk assessment is carried out on all active substances and products before they reach the market.

Finally, consider other likely consequences of these two amendments. With advances in agritech, such as pest monitoring, plant breeding and precision application, it is likely that the use of PPPs and all other pest control interventions can become more efficient, achieving more with less. However, to achieve this, the Government must encourage investment in research and development and provide a regulatory environment which enables innovation in order to deliver the next generation of agricultural technologies and, in the meantime, ensure that farmers and growers retain the tools they need to produce world-class food sustainably and affordably. These amendments would undermine that investment in the future.

Photo of Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 5:45, 13 September 2021

My Lords, I beg to move Amendment 53 in my name and shall speak to Amendments 52 and 123. All the amendments deal with different poisons that should be banned, or at least controlled. I thank the Bill team for its time and useful briefing on Friday. We have debated at length the impact of pesticides on both the population and pollinating insects during the Agriculture Bill and in Committee on this Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, spoke passionately, as always—as did others—about the impact of pesticides on humans unfortunate enough to be in the vicinity of spraying. That is a serious matter, and I hope that the Minister will have concessions to offer the noble Lord and other signatories to that amendment. The noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, gave the excellent example of the promotion of DDT. There should not be another example similar to that witnessed with the use of organophosphate sheep dips, when it took a huge campaign on the part of those affected before the substance was banned. Pesticides have detrimental effects on humans, and the Government should acknowledge that.

I now turn to Amendment 53, relating to the effect of pesticide use on pollinators, particularly bees. I am grateful to Buglife for its briefings. I am sure the Minister will refer the House to the integrated pest management strategy, which covers some of the ground. However, this does not provide the safeguards needed. The widespread use of neonicotinoid pesticides resulted in a reduction in the overwintering success of honey bee hives, significant declines of 40% in wild bee species studied and was implicated in butterfly population decline. This resulted in reduced pollination services and crop yields. However, despite the acknowledgement by the then Minister in 2010 that the pre-approval tests for pesticides were inadequate to protect pollinators, and the production in 2013 of a testing guide document by the European Food Safety Authority, the UK has yet to introduce any new tests to help ensure that future pesticides are pollinator-safe. In order to comply, an independent, competent authority is needed, as detailed in proposed new subsections (1) to (4) of Amendment 53.

I acknowledge the national action plan on pesticides and its aim to reduce the need for chemical pesticides, but it does not mean that they will be phased out. The Future Farming scheme will help with transition to a non-pesticide control, but this is yet to have effect.

The public are passionate about bees. One needs only to see the many products on sale with the symbol of bees and their honeycombs to acknowledge just how popular they are. Those can range from miracle face creams through to cushions and scarves, from socks through to high-fashion items, kitchen utensils and even furniture. There is also the huge popularity of honey—a truly natural product. The bee is popular, and the public wish it to be protected and wish to be consulted on anything which might have an impact on pollinators. This amendment ensures that that could happen.

The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, has referred to a 30% to 40% reduction in crop yield if PPPs are not used, but if crops are not pollinated because of the decline in pollinators, there is likely to be a similar loss in yield.

With reference to proposed new subsection (9), the devolved Administrations have a significant role here, and the Minister should consult them. Authorisation of use includes derogation. As a nation, we must strive to avoid a similar circumstance to where a Minister, overriding the advice of his officials, authorises the use of glyphosate-based herbicides, which can cause high levels of mortality in bumblebees. This came to public attention only due to an FoI. The public need to have confidence that the Government will do the right thing.

Different groups of pollinators are affected by pesticides in different ways, so it is important that a range of pollinators is included in the pre-approval testing process. This amendment would ensure that tests are undertaken on acute and chronic effects on honey bees, bumblebees, solitary bees, butterflies and hover-flies, but also that independent science relevant to any pollinator is considered.

I regret to say that, despite the assurance of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, that everything is tested, on Friday, officials said that it was impossible to test everything. The various mixtures of chemicals—the so-called cocktails—are unlikely all to be tested. There may be a shift to less toxic mixtures, but insufficient research on their effect has so far been done, and it is important to protect honey bees and wild pollinators.

Turning briefly to Amendment 123, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, who spoke passionately about it, phasing out the use of lead ammunition has been slow. In Committee, we heard powerful evidence of the effect of lead poisoning on the health of both children and adults. No matter how careful you are in the preparation of game for the table, lead shot often escapes notice and is unwittingly eaten. I was very interested in the example given by the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, of lead shot in millet. The noble Earl, Lord Shrewsbury, spoke from vast experience of shooting. Alternatives to lead shot are available. I fully support the transition away from lead to safer alternatives. This amendment, if added to the Bill, would ensure that that would happen sooner rather than later. I look forward to the Minister’s response to those three very important amendments.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

My Lords, I declare an interest through my involvement at Rothamsted Research. I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in a clearly very important debate. Amendments 52 and 53 tackle the pernicious effects that pesticides are having on our environment and on human and insect health. The amendment of my noble friend Lord Whitty once again raises the important human health implications of spraying noxious chemicals in fields next to residential and workplace areas. He asks that regulations should set out minimum distances from homes, schools and public places. We do not think this is an unreasonable request. As he said, at least farm workers have protective clothing and some sort of choice about their work environment, whereas local people have no choice and no information about what is being sprayed on particular days. As we have discovered in the past, the health implications of exposure to such chemicals can sometimes take years to be revealed, as the example given by the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, of DDT, clearly demonstrated.

Of course we welcome the Government’s overarching commitment to reducing pesticide use. We see that there are considerable advantages to precision applications and integrated pest management for the future, but the very fact that the Government are taking those steps is an acknowledgement of the dangers of widespread pesticide use. In the meantime, until those techniques become commonplace, we should at least be taking steps to protect public health, and my noble friend’s amendment is one step towards doing this.

As we discussed in Committee, and again today, the threat to public health is made worse by the spraying of cocktails of pesticides. The Minister conceded in his subsequent all-Peers letter that it is not possible to assess the potential human health and environmental impacts of every possible combination of the chemicals in the environment. As a result, we cannot know for sure the extent of health damage being done by indiscriminate spraying.

This is an issue that we raised and voted on in the Agriculture Bill, and I am sorry that the Government have felt unable to address these concerns. My noble friend’s amendment raises important issues about health protection for the future, and I hope that the Minister can give further reassurance in his response that these concerns are being addressed and that the Government are prepared to look again at this issue.

Meanwhile, the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, set out decisively why further action to protect pollinators is so important. She set out why research into the longer-term impacts of pesticides on wider groups of pollinators, not just honey bees, is so important, particularly as the impact on bees is not necessarily an accurate measure of the impact on wider species. We are now much more aware of the importance of a diverse group of pollinators to deliver flourishing crops and rich habitats. Yet, since 1990 the UK has lost 13 out of 35 of its native bee species and, as I said, it is not just honey bees that fertilise our plants: there are myriad pollinators in the insect world whose contributions to natural diversity can all too easily be overlooked.

This is why greater action to protect pollinators is so important, and it is why we are concerned that the emergency use of chemicals such as neonicotinoids continues to be sanctioned by the Government. Although the emergency threshold for their use was not met this year, presumably the Government are retaining that emergency power for future years. As noble Lords have said, it is particularly frustrating as other natural solutions and other innovations are coming on stream.

In Committee, the Minister was supportive of much of what the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, and I had to say on the issue. I have no doubt about his personal commitment. As he said:

“It is impossible to exaggerate the existential damage that would be done were we to see the continuing decline of pollinators on the scale that we have seen in recent years”.

He went on,

“I … take these amendments extremely seriously and I share the intention behind them.”—[Official Report, 5/7/21; cols. 1102-03.]

He also argued that the current risk assessments for pesticides are subject to public consultation, but this so-called public consultation is buried away on the Health and Safety Executive’s website, the first dossier being 2,570 pages long with 360 questions. Until very recently no one even knew that this public consultation was there. I hope that, in his response, he will be able to give more reassurance to the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, that further measures will be taken to carry out more comprehensive research into the potential harmful effects of pesticides, with proper consultation backing it up. If he is not able to do so, I confirm that we will support her if she calls a vote.

We also support Amendment 123 in the name of my noble friend Lord Browne of Ladyton, who has been a tireless campaigner on this issue. We share his frustration that action to ban the use of poisonous lead ammunition in game shooting has not been introduced more urgently. As my noble friend made clear, there are no safe levels of lead: it affects all major systems of animals, including humans. It has been banned in all other applications, including paint and drinking water, yet its use continues unabated in countryside sports. As my noble friend and other noble Lords have made clear, there is growing consensus in the UK shooting community that there should be a switch to non-toxic shot, but it needs government leadership to move away from a reliance on voluntary efforts in this regard.

In Committee, the Minister expressed some sympathy for my noble friend’s amendment, but he reported that the Health and Safety Executive has been asked to produce a GB REACH restriction dossier on the risks posed by lead in ammunition. I can tell him the outcome of that risk assessment now: it will report that lead is poisonous. We know this already, so it is unclear why the Government felt it necessary to take this overcautious step, which is simply resulting in further delays. In the meantime, the Minister committed to meeting my noble friend and the noble Earl, Lord Shrewsbury, to discuss this matter further. I am sorry that there was not a more positive outcome from this meeting, given the broad consensus across the House that action to ban lead shot is needed now. I therefore hope that, even at this late stage, the Minister can give my noble friend more positive news on this issue and confirm that the ban will indeed be implemented by July 2023. We look forward to his response on all these important issues in this group.

Photo of Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) 6:00, 13 September 2021

I start by assuring your Lordships’ House that, in line with this amendment, the Government’s objective is to reduce the use of and risks and impacts associated with pesticides. Logically, that has to be the objective, given everything we know about the effects of pouring so many chemicals into our natural environment over so many decades.

The national action plan on the sustainable use of pesticides sets out the ambition to improve indicators of pesticide usage, risk and impacts. This was the subject of a recent public consultation. The summary of responses will be published shortly and a final revised national action plan will be published later this year. As we set out in the draft plan, the Government are committed to producing targets for the reduction of the risks associated with pesticide use. We are developing new metrics to better understand the pressures that pesticides put on the environment and will use these tools to target the most toxic pesticides.

Central to the strategy is integrated pest management. Through future schemes, we will support farmers, land managers and so on to maximise nature-based solutions and switch to lower-toxicity, higher-precision methods of pest control. The aim is to drive down dependency on pesticides and to allow our farmers to produce high-quality food with less risk to people and the environment.

On Amendment 53, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, the Government agree that pesticides should not be used where they may harm human health. Pesticides should be authorised only where a scientific assessment shows that they are not supposed to have any harmful effects on human health. In addition, pesticide users are supposed to take all reasonable precautions to protect human health and the environment, and must ensure that the pesticide is confined to the area intended to be treated. They must minimise their use around public buildings and vulnerable groups. That includes the situations noted in the noble Lord’s amendment, such as around schools, hospitals, children, and rural residents, who could be exposed more regularly. It is an offence to use pesticides in contravention of these requirements, and one that comes with an unlimited fine.

I share concerns raised by a number of noble Lord, including in particular my noble friend Lord Randall, about the potential impact of mixtures of pesticides. Clearly it is not possible to assess directly the human health and environmental impacts of the millions of potential combinations of chemicals in the natural environment. According to the toxicologist Professor Vyvyan Howard, if you were to test just the 1,000 commonest toxic chemicals in unique combinations of three, that would require at least 166 million different experiments. That would not even take into account the need to study varying doses. So we have over the years created an enormous problem for ourselves.

However, the risks from products are increasingly tested, as well as individual active substances. This means that mixtures of active substances are assessed where they are included in the same product and where they therefore will interact with other chemicals. There are regulatory controls, and associated conditions of authorisation, which could include no-spray zones, buffer zones and so on. That should ensure that people are protected. Applied properly, these controls should permit pesticide use only where they are safe, but where the application of these existing controls has not been sufficiently robust in the past—a point again made by my noble friend Lord Randall—that will be identified in the revised national action plan.

On Amendment 53, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, protecting pollinators is a priority for all the reasons we discussed in Committee, which I will not repeat. We are restoring and creating habitats for pollinators to thrive and redressing pressures by supporting a shift towards greater use of integrated pest management techniques. That includes increasing the use of nature-based, low-toxicity solutions and precision technologies to manage pests, all of which will benefit pollinators. Current legislation requires that pesticide products and their active substances have

“no unacceptable effects on the environment, having particular regard to … its impact on non-target species”,

which includes impacts on bees and other important pollinators.

Risk assessments made for active substances are subject to public consultation. These assessments establish the key risks posed by pesticide substances in representative conditions of use.

On the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, let me say briefly that we have not changed our rules on neonicotinoids; the rules now are exactly the same as the ones we inherited when we left the European Union. The Government remain of the view that the scientific advice on neonicotinoids, particularly in relation to their impact on pollinators, is correct. This year, an emergency authorisation was granted for the use of a neonicotinoid seed treatment to address a particular problem in relation to the sugar beet crop. Controls were set but, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, pointed out, the conditions of the authorisation were not met and the exemption was therefore not used.

We know that there has been a dramatic decline in pollinators both here and across much of the world. We recognise the need to work harder and faster to identify and reduce the causes. The revised national action plan will address this, alongside our wider action for nature, including through the national pollinator strategy and the powerful package of new policies and tools introduced through this Bill, including our 2030 target that we discussed on Wednesday last week.

Turning to Amendment 123 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, the Government recognise the need to address the issue of lead shot. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Randall, the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and my noble friend Lord Shrewsbury. Incidentally, I strongly endorse my noble friend’s views on the different approaches to shooting and enjoyed the vigour with which he delivered them.

As I highlighted in Committee, the Government are committed to addressing the impacts of lead in ammunition. In March, we asked the Health and Safety Executive to produce a UK REACH draft restriction dossier considering the risks posed by lead shot in all civilian ammunition. That process has now started, and the HSE published its call for evidence last month. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Browne, my noble friend Lord Shrewsbury, the noble Lord, Lord Randall, and John Batley for our meeting last month, which was more positive than the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, implied a few moments ago. They will recognise from that meeting—at least I hope they do—that the Government share their ambition, although they highlighted concerns, principally around the timeframes associated with the REACH process. I can tell the noble Lord, Lord Browne, that I share that frustration.

However, since then, Defra has engaged at length with the Health and Safety Executive and the Environment Agency, and I am pleased to confirm that the Health and Safety Executive is due to provide its final recommendations by April 2023. The Secretary of State then has until July of that year to decide how to proceed and to propose a draft restriction, if that is what the Secretary of State decides and what the science determines. As I understand it, that timeframe does not compare unfavourably with the proposed amendment, which would take effect from 31 July 2023; it is certainly in the same ballpark.

In addition, the UK REACH process has a far more extensive coverage of lead ammunition, as the restriction dossier will consider all civilian uses of lead ammunition in all environments. The proposed amendment seeks only to limit the use of lead shot in shotguns for the purpose of killing an animal and excludes, for example, the use of lead shot for clay pigeon shooting. Most critically, any restriction would apply across Great Britain, whereas the proposed amendment would apply only to England.

We know that there are difficulties in the detection and enforcement of the existing ban on shooting over wetlands. However, we believe that there is a strong risk that the proposed amendment will also be difficult to enforce. In contrast, we are confident that the robustness of the UK REACH process will ensure that any restriction can be enforced effectively.

For these reasons, we believe that the UK REACH process is a more effective way to address the complexity of the issue. I ask the noble Lord, Lord Browne, not to press his amendment and hope that I have sufficiently assured the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Labour

My Lords, I have to tell the Minister that I am deeply disappointed by that reply. He started out well by indicating that there is an historical problem that we need to tackle, but he then defended the current system as being adequate. He took almost the same line as the noble Lord, Lord Carrington. I ask both of them: if the present system is pretty much adequate, how come a number of cases of serious inducement of disease are still turning up in our GPs’ surgeries and our hospitals—and, in relation to pollinators, why are whole populations of bees and other pollinators in serious decline? If the present system worked, at least broadly speaking, we would not see these phenomena.

The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, says that we will wipe out large parts of food production if we do this, but that is not the case. We are saying that we should protect the areas where people live and are vulnerable, and we propose that regulations should be introduced to do that. We were fobbed off during the passage of the then Agriculture Bill in a number of different ways, such as being told to put things in the Environment Bill instead or that it would be in the national action programme. There is hardly a word in that programme, as currently drafted, about the vulnerability of residents and other populations.

I feel sorry for the Minister in many respects, because I happen to know that, in a previous life, he strongly supported strengthening regulations regarding the exposure of rural populations, and indeed the effect on pollinators. I find it odd that, having recognised the problem and doing so again now, he is not prepared to respond to the appeals from the Front Benches of the Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party to say something new or give a bigger commitment. At the beginning of his response, I sort of expected that we would at least get something. We got nothing. I regret that.

The Minister is in an impossible position, but he must accept that he needs to do something immediately to consider new regulations in this area, because it is palpably obvious that the present regulations are not working. To go back to the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, who suggested that the spraying of pesticides does not occur during the day or close to where children are, we recently saw a film about pesticides being produced perhaps 10 yards away from where children were playing. The system is not working; the Minister has to recognise that. He can look at what the precise details of the regulations should be, but he should accept the principle in my amendment now.

With regret, I am going to test the opinion of the House.

Ayes 52, Noes 174.

Division number 2 Environment Bill - Report (3rd Day) — Amendment 52

Aye: 52 Members of the House of Lords

No: 174 Members of the House of Lords

Aye: A-Z by last name

No: A-Z by last name

Amendment 52 disagreed.