Amendment 52

Part of Environment Bill - Report (3rd Day) – in the House of Lords at 6:00 pm on 13th September 2021.

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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 pm, 13th 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.