(By Order) Orders read for consideration of Lords amendments .
To be considered on Thursday 19 October .
2 ) Bill-- (By Order) Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question--[23 May]-- That the Bill be now read the Third time.
Debate to be resumed on Thursday 19 October .
[Lords] (By Order) Order for further consideration, as amended, read .
To be further considered on Thursday 19 October .
[Lords] (By Order)
[Lords] (By Order)
2 ) Bill-- (By Order) Orders for consideration, as amended, read .
To be considered on Thursday 19 October .
[Lords] (By Order)
[Lords] (By Order) As amended, considered.
That Standing Order 205 (Notice of third reading) be suspended and that the Bill be now read the third time.-- [The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means.]
Read the Third time, and passed, with amendments.
(By Order) Order for consideration, as amended, read.
To be considered on Thursday 19 October.
(By Order) Read a Second time and referred to the Examiners of Petitions for Private Bills.
[Lords] (By Order)
[Lords] (By Order) Orders for Second Reading read.
To be read a Second time on Thursday 19 October.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. David Maclean) : Under legislation introduceby this Government pesticides are banned for use unless approved on the basis of independent scientific advice. Once approved they may be used only as specified in their approval.
Mr. Thurnham : First, I welcome my hon. Friend to his new office. Will he begin his new responsibilities by ordering a review of the way in which pesticides are approved--both new and older products, some of which may be taken for granted--so that the public may have full confidence in the approval system, knowing that the best scientific evidence is used?
Mr. Maclean : My hon. Friend will be aware that it is only three years since we introduced the new statutory arrangements, which are among the best in the world for approving pesticides. We have a continual review system, and if there is any problem, the pesticides concerned are called in for review. The independent Advisory Committee on Pesticides is recognised as offering the best scientific advice in the world.
Mr. Duffy : Is the Minister aware that I have made several representations to the Ministry over the past year or so on behalf of people in Sheffield and in South Yorkshire generally, who are worried about a possible linkage between their water supplies--25 per cent. of which are drawn from the Derwent--and the use of pesticides, as well as nitrates, on the Vale of York? Their anxieties have heightened during the summer. Will the Minister comment?
Mr. Maclean : I shall certainly look into the hon. Gentleman's point. Responsibility for the quality of the water supply rests with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. However, I shall be
Column 1157delighted to consider the matter to establish whether there is any agricultural involvement--in which case I may be able to assist the hon. Gentleman.
Mr. Bill Walker : Is my hon. Friend aware that in Scotland, where raspberries are grown substantially to serve the needs of Europe, the Government have shown great understanding in their handling of the dinoseb problem? The costs involved have been phased over a year, and the Government are also giving grubbing-out assistance, so that fresh varieties other than Glen Clova can be planted. All that shows how sensibly the Government tackled the problems.
Mr. Maclean : My hon. Friend is absolutely correct. We are delighted to assist, where we can, by ensuring that the safest possible use is made of pesticides while at the same time not damaging or destroying the agricultural industry, which has the prime responsibility for ensuring that the nation has good, safe and wholesome food at a reasonable price.
Dr. David Clark : On behalf of the Opposition, I welcome and congratulate the new Ministers and I hope that they have a rewarding time at the Dispatch Box. We shall make sure that they work hard at making certain that the British public is protected.
Concern has been expressed by right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House about the review of old pesticides. Some pesticides are as much as 40 years old, yet it may be another 10 years before they are reviewed. Is the Minister aware that no new and, one would hope, safe pesticides have been approved under the new scheme because of a lack of resources? Will he examine the problem to ensure that public health and the environment are better protected than they are at present?
Mr. Maclean : I thank the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham) for their kind words. I am, of course, aware of concern that pesticides are not being reviewed quickly enough, but I do not accept its validity. I have no evidence to suggest that the Department is being tardy in its attitude to the review. We are considering the matter of resources and recruiting scientists to continue the work of the review. If the hon. Gentleman is worried about any pesticides, and if he draws his concern to our attention, we shall pull the pesticides concerned forward for instant review. Pesticides are reviewed under an ongoing programme, and we are determined to ensure that there is no tardiness.
2. Mr. Stern : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will take steps to ensure that purchasers of animal-based products are able to obtain information on the drugs given to the animals.
Column 1158Does my hon. Friend agree that there is reason for concern among people in the Bristol area, for example, when they hear that a preparation of which they previously knew nothing, such as BST- -bovine somatotropin--is being fed to cows on an experimental basis? It is not that they believe that an active attempt being made to do them harm but that they are not told that such experiments are taking place. How can my hon. Friend reassure my constituents and those of other right hon. and hon. Members?
Mr. Maclean : I thank my hon. Friend for his kind words. There is no question of testing drugs in the manner that my hon. Friend suggests, and then giving the milk products of those cows to the public. Bovine somatotropin is not a drug but a naturally occurring hormone. I suggest that my hon. Friend tells his constituents that, since time began, every cow has had BST naturally occurring in its system. Synthetic BST is no different from the naturally occurring hormone, and it would be inappropriate to label milk products, because such labelling could be misleading. BST is a natural hormone.
Mr. Livsey : I, too, congratulate the agriculture team on its appointment. Will the Minister comment on the ban that has been imposed by the EC as a result of bovine spongiform encephalopathy in Britain when the mainland continent of Europe cannot test for or identify the disease?
Mr. Maclean : The only comment that I would make is that that ban applies only to animals born before 18 July 1988. We continually keep the matter under review and we are happy to comply with EEC standards on all aspects of animal health and safety.
Dr. David Clark : Has the Minister had time to study the minutes of his veterinary products committee? If so, will he confirm that the April and May meetings of that committee received an application for a product licence for BST by Elanco which it has not granted on grounds of health doubts for humans and animals?
Mr. Maclean : No, I have not had a chance in the past 24 hours to study that minute among the other documents that I have been reading. However, I assure the hon. Gentleman that I shall study it and write to him with a detailed reply.
My right hon. Friend may be aware that, while studying alternative land uses, the Select Committee on Agriculture recently visited the flow countries, where we met representatives of the RSPB. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that at his next meeting with the RSPB he will
Column 1159encourage it to have a slightly broader vision than did its representatives whom we met in Caithness, who seemed to be 100 per cent. opposed to any further development of those vast tracts of land, whether for forestry or agriculture, because they felt that it would disturb a few rare species of birds?
Mr. Gummer : I thank my hon. Friend for his kind comments. I suppose that we would both agree that an organisation set up to protect birds would tend to go on about birds. However, I agree that we must take into account a range of matters when we make decisions. I much welcome the work done by the RSPB on behalf of birds, but in the end we have to achieve a balance between the perfectly proper demands that such conservation makes upon us and the demands for jobs and for preserving the countryside. There are often different tensions, even between conservation organisations. In the end, the Government must hold the ring and make the decisions, and I agree that they must be made impartially.
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett : Does the Secretary of State accept that when he next meets the RSPB one issue that it will be particularly worried about is the state of Britain's hedgerows? Does he accept that, if hedgerows are to be stockproof and to provide a good habitat for birds, they need, in agricultural terms, to have a good bottom and to be laid regularly? Does he accept that the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food should be doing far more to encourage farmers to maintain their hedges in a stockproof state rather than relying on strands of barbed wire to join up trees in outgrown hedges?
Mr. Gummer : I have considerable sympathy with the tenor of the hon. Gentleman's question. I was a Parliamentary Private Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when we stopped paying people to grub up hedges. I was pleased when we started to pay people to lay and look after them properly and I shall keep that support under review. Hedgerows are of great importance and I agree that we need proper hedgerows, not ones with strips of barbed wire, wherever that can be avoided.
Mr. Michael Brown : First, may I very warmly congratulate my right hon. Friend on his elevation to the Cabinet. I ask him to pass on to his Parliamentary Secretaries, who will ably support him, my warmest congratulations. He has a superb team and I am sure that agriculture will benefit from this marvellous team. I also ask my right hon. Friend to remember that the RSPB has welcomed the farm woodlands scheme, which it says will be a lifeline for birds.
Mr. Gummer : It has certainly been extremely supportive of the farm woodlands scheme. I found the regular meetings that I initiated with the RSPB when I was Minister of State to be valuable and I hope that we shall continue those meetings.
Mr. Ron Davies : Has the RSPB raised with the Minister the Government's failure to protect British wildlife from deliberate and illegal killing? Will the Minister confirm that in the past eight years, there have been about 200 cases of deliberate killing of raptors by the illegal use of pesticides and that for those 200 incidents there were only four prosecutions? Is he aware that the position has been made considerably worse this year because in the
Column 1160grouse-rearing areas of England, all the nesting pairs of hen harriers, a bird that merits special protection under the EC birds directive, have been deliberately killed? Will the Minister forcefully condemn the actions of those responsible? Will he remind the landowners concerned of their legal responsibility and will he review the actions of his Ministry to ensure that the law is adequately and rigorously enforced?
Mr. Gummer : The RSPB has not so far drawn that to my attention, but I am happy to discuss the matter with it when we meet. I am also happy to condemn forcefully anyone who breaks the law, especially in the areas of sensitivity about which the hon. Gentleman spoke. I cannot, of course, necessarily support all that the hon. Gentleman said, but I suggest to him that the Government's actions on pesticides generally and some of the actions that I hope to announce later today will comfort him very much. I am also happy to examine again the problem to which he refers, and if further action is needed to toughen up the reactions of the Ministry, I shall be happy to take it.
4. Mr. David Davis : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what has been the effect of his announcement after the 1988 Budget that approval for large-scale conifer planting in the uplands of England would not normally be given ; and if he will make a statement.
Mr. Gummer : It is too early to say. However, in the four years before the announcement, less than 650 hectares of land was planted with conifers in the whole of England. Some two thirds of that planting was in upland areas.
Mr. Davis : May I join in congratulating my right hon. Friend on his return to the Dispatch box at an appropriately elevated level. May I point out to him that the Council for the Protection of Rural England and I, as somebody who walks in the beautiful uplands of Britain, welcome the Government's decision? Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the proposal of the Countryside Commission to plant large areas of forest in urban fringe areas? That will provide amenities and an environmentally sensitive mix of trees for those who live in towns and inner villages.
Mr. Gummer : I agree that the Countryside Commission's action is to be welcomed. It began to discuss this about a year ago. It has developed the proposal, and the first forest will begin to be planted soon. This is a major innovation which shows that Britain is leading the world in many areas of conservation. The scheme will bring back to parts of the country that have missed out on the countryside for a long time some of the amenities that many of us are lucky enough to experience near at hand where we live.
Mr. Morley : I welcome the new appointments to the Agriculture Front Bench, but I shall judge Ministers on their actions before I comment on their countryside policy. I hope that they will make changes. Will the Minister join me in congratulating the Forestry Commission on its new landscape design proposals, which are a response to criticism levelled at forestry in the uplands for some years? Does the Minister agree that an area such as the flow
Column 1161country is important not only because of the rare birds who live there--it contains some of the most important species in Europe--but because it is a habitat that is unique in western Europe? Planting trees on that land destroys the peat layer for ever. There is no going back once land has been ploughed up and planted on. Does the Minister agree that steps need to be taken to protect precious areas which are of international importance?
Mr. Gummer : I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not want to tempt me into areas looked after by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. I am happy to support what he said about the Forestry Commission's decisions on landscape, although I do not think that they were a response to criticism, as the hon. Gentleman rather negatively suggested. Those decisions show how much the Forestry Commission has been doing to develop its plans, and we should welcome not only the new plans but the new chairman who will take over at the end of September.
Mr. Evans : Will the Minister confirm that egg imports into the United Kingdom trebled between January and April this year, largely because of housewives' continuing lack of confidence in the quality of British eggs? In view of the continuing problem of salmonella in eggs, what action do he and his Department intend to take to improve quality control of egg imports?
Mr. Maclean : I do not have the figures for egg imports with me, but I can tell the hon. Gentleman that egg exports have increased in the past few months because foreign countries have great confidence in the rigorous quality standards in Britain following the salmonella outbreaks. The standards that we impose for salmonella testing at the ports are among the most rigorous in the world and everyone in this country should have perfect confidence that we can detect any salmonella coming into the country through eggs. One consignment was detected and we took the matter up with our opposite numbers in the EEC.
Mrs. Gorman : While my hon. Friend is on the learning curve of his new post, will he ask his officials to confirm that an egg is an anaerobic capsule designed by nature to keep out germs and that unless the eggshell is cracked or the semi-permeable membrane disturbed an egg cannot contain enough of any kind of bacteria to make one ill? All this stuff and nonsense worrying people about eggs comes under the heading of "poppycockus hystericus" and the public should be told, after my hon. Friend's officials have confirmed it, that a freshly cooked egg is perfectly healthy, whether it is English or foreign.
Mr. Maclean : My hon. Friend makes her points in he own inimitable way. Although I have not had a briefing on this matter yet, I understand that eggs are porous and that it is not true to suggest that eggshells are completely
Column 1162impermeable to contamination. Part of the problem with the salmonella outbreak is that invasive salmonella involves transovarian transmission, whereby the disease is transmitted from the bird through the ovary into the egg.
Mr. Alton : At what levels do egg consumption and production now stand, following the complaints made by the hon. Gentleman's former ministerial colleague, the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie), about the possibility of salmonella poisoning? Does he agree that what is needed is a Minister who is seen to protect the interests of consumers, who continue to lack confidence in the food available in our supermarkets?
Mr. Maclean : I understand that egg consumption is up to more than 80 per cent. of its former level. The hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) said that he would judge us by our actions, and I assure the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr Alton) that he will be happy to reach the conclusion that our actions will be in the best interests of consumers in this country.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. David Curry) : We have pressed hard for an increase in the Channel cod total allowable catch for this year. The Commission's recent proposal, based on scientific advice, for a small increase from 23,900 tonnes to 24,600 tonnes has just been confirmed. We have also secured agreement that the Community's scientific and technical committee should carry out a further review of the total allowable catch.
Mr. Harris : I congratulate my hon. Friend and former colleague in the European Parliament on his new appointment. With regard to Channel cod, does my hon. Friend appreciate that although any increase in the quota is helpful, there is nevertheless deep disappointment among our fishermen that the increase is so small? Will he bring his skills and knowledge of Europe into play to continue the battle for a larger quota of Channel cod and has he any proposals for better management of the quota?
Mr. Curry : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his kind words and reminiscences. I appreciate that fishermen are bound to be disappointed. In response to my hon. Friend's question about the management of the quota, I am considering dividing the quota for Channel cod between vessels of more than 10 m in length and those below 10 m. That would apply immediately if I take that decision. I am also aware of the pressure to extend licensing to vessels below 10 m and I am actively considering--my hon. Friend will be aware of the significance of the adverts--whether to extend licensing from vessels of 10 m registered length to vessels of 10 m overall length, which would bring the most blatant of the so-called rule beaters under control, and I am treating a decision on those questions as a matter of urgency.
Column 1163lover of cod and chips, may I ask what the Prime Minister has done to ensure that cod are not landed as nothing more than reprocessed turds?
Mr. Curry : While the hon. Gentleman was discussing that yesterday, I was mugging up on fish. We are vigilant about the quality of the fish that is landed and we are determined to try to increase the cod quota so that British housewives can enjoy more cod and that all cod that is landed, either from British boats or from imports, should be subject to a levy which will help to promote that quite excellent fish.
Mr. Hill : May I add my congratulations to my hon. Friend on his promotion to his new position on the Government Front Bench. I am sure that he will do an extremely good job. My hon. Friend will realise that the theme that was jokingly introduced by the hon. Member for Newham, North- West (Mr. Banks) is quite serious. My hon. Friend and the Ministry are responsible for licensing procedures in respect of the Channel areas where sewage or sewage sludge is dumped. Will he keep a close eye on the situation and monitor what is happening as the Southern Fisheries Association is extremely concerned about the almost unbridled issuing of licences to the Southern water authority?
Mr. Curry : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his kind words. I understand that the licensing process is carefully controlled, but I give my hon. Friend a clear guarantee that we shall reinforce the controls and I shall be particularly vigilant.
Mr. Cohen : Given the authority's role in fish farming research, should it not be looking into pollution research? Will the Minister take steps to stop the misuse of chemicals and pesticides in fish farms and ban the use of Nuvan 500 EC?
Mr. Curry : The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) says that I do not know what it is, and I confirm his impression. However, I will take steps to find out very quickly. If the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) would like to forward any particular evidence to me, I will examine it as soon as possible.
Mr. Macdonald : I add my personal welcome to the Minister with his new responsibilities and I hope that he will be a wee bit more sympathetic than his predecessor was to some of our concerns. When he next meets the chairman of the Sea Fish Industry Authority, will he discuss with him, and with the Department of Agriculture
Column 1164and Fisheries for Scotland, the need closely to monitor nephrops stocks in the Minch fisheries off the north- west coast of Scotland, where there is increasing pressure due to east coast fishermen coming over as a result of the quota cuts that they have suffered? Will the Minister undertake to monitor prawn stocks off the west coast and introduce quotas if necessary?
Dr. Godman : I, too, welcome the new Ministers to their posts. I only hope that we can maintain the civilised relationship that we experienced with their predecessors. In that regard, I offer my compliments in public to the hon. Member for Calder Valley (Mr. Thompson) for the many affable courtesies that he showed to me during his tenure of office.
When the Minister next meets the chairman of the Sea Fish Industry Authority, will he discuss with that gentleman the urgent need to introduce a sensible decommissioning scheme? Does he agree that many middle-aged fishermen around the British coastline would happily and willingly tie up their middle-aged or elderly vessels for the last time if such a scheme were in operation? Is it not the case that, with regard to European Community obligations vis-a-vis the multi-annual guidance programme, the United Kingdom fishing fleet has to shed some 600 to 800 fishing vessels? How will that be brought about in the absence of a sensible decommissioning scheme?
Mr. Curry : I echo the hon. Gentleman's remarks about my hon. Friend the Member for Calder Valley (Mr. Thompson), who I thought was an excellent Minister and responsible for many personal kindnesses to hon. Members.
Decommissioning is a somewhat less easy matter than the hon. Gentleman seems to suggest. It is one of the options that I am now reviewing. The hon. Gentleman is right that the multi-annual guidance programme sets Community targets to apply by 1991. He will be aware, however, that since that target was set two years ago there has been a significant expansion in the fishing fleet. That has been done with public money. I am therefore bound to pay careful attention to whether I wish to decommission with public money a fleet that was built up with public money. However, it is one of the matters that I shall certainly discuss with my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and I am aware of the importance of the issue.
12. Mr. Alan W. Williams : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is the maximum permitted concentration of dioxin in common foods ; and what is the dioxin content of mother's milk.
Mr. Maclean : There are no maximum permitted levels set for the dioxin content of foods. Work carried out at my Ministry's food science laboratory shows the dioxin content of mothers' milk to be approximately 1 nanogram--that is, one thousand millionth of a gram--per kilogram.
Mr. Williams : Given that dioxin has been responsible for more than 4,000 children in the United States being born with severe congenital abnormalities due to Vietnam veterans having been exposed to agent orange, given the toxicity of dioxin, and given that dioxin enters the human body mainly through our food, what do the Government intend to do to tackle the problem of dioxin in food and in the environment?
Mr. Maclean : There can be no comparison between people sprayed with dioxin in Vietnam and dioxin levels in mothers' milk. We had a survey carried out in seven European countries and in three other countries which showed that dioxin levels were all comparable and very low. The reference level is 1 picogram, which is one millionth millionth of a gramme. The hon. Gentleman must be careful not to suggest that there is a serious problem. I accept entirely, and repeat, the advice of my right hon. and hon. Friends at the Department of Health that breast milk is still the safest and best means of feeding a baby. There is no problem with dioxin.
Mr. Boswell : I welcome my hon. Friend to the Front Bench and I welcome his last response. Will he confirm that instead of spreading scare stories the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Williams) should be paying tribute to the skill of the scientists in their ability to detect such minuscule quantities, to the strength of the regulatory system and to our readiness to publish this information which shows, contrary to the opinions of the Opposition, that there is no danger in breast milk either in Europe or in the Third world?
Mr. Maclean : I thank my hon. Friend for his kind words. He is right. We have some of the best scientists in the world. As I said to the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Williams), we have carried out studies in Europe. It is wrong to suggest that there is a serious problem with dioxin in breast milk when we are talking of levels of one thousand millionth or one million millionth of a gramme.
15. Mr. Campbell-Savours : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what proposals he has to introduce measures to ameliorate the suffering of animals during slaughter ; and if he will make a statement.
Mr. Campbell-Savours : Why have only 18 of the 100 recommendations made by the Farm Animal Welfare Council been implemented, as they related to examples of extreme cruelty in Britain's slaughterhouses? Will FMC in Wiltshire be prosecuted as a journalist on The Sunday Times was a witness to cruelty in that slaughterhouse? What action is to be taken on the evidence of cruelty in many of Britain's slaughterhouses?
Mr. Curry : The hon. Gentleman asked why only a certain number of recommendations have been implemented. He will appreciate that certain measures can be implemented by means of existing primary legislation, but others require new primary legislation. We are about to conclude the consultation period--in fact, it ends on the first day of next month--on the recommendations relative
Column 1166to religious slaughter. The hon. Gentleman will be familiar with the Government's stance on that. Once the consultation period is over, we shall lay regulations quickly.
The hon. Gentleman will also be aware that the Department would like to introduce an animal welfare Bill. That, of course, depends on parliamentary time. If we were to win such time, we would be requiring local authorities to-- [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman asked a specific question and he is getting a specific answer. We shall require local authorities to appoint a person specifically responsible for animal welfare. We intend to make the rules of practice mandatory and not voluntary. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman must not object because I managed to guess his supplementary. We intend to extend protection to deer.
Miss Emma Nicholson : I add my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Minister and the new agriculture team, which I am sure will be extremely successful. May I ask my hon. Friend to remind the Opposition that when I put forward an animal welfare Bill embodying recommendations by the Farm Animal Welfare Council with regard to the slaughter of deer, the legislation was blocked by Opposition Members?
Mr. MacLean : The Government intend that labelling of irradiated foodstuffs is full and clear. I will shortly be putting out for public consultation appropriate amendments to the Food Labelling Regulations.