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The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, the necessity for the scheme is completely and utterly unscientifically based. The reason for it is because the EC decided that a 50 mg. limit of methaeglobinaemia--shortened to MGA--if it is not established, will produce stomach cancer in humans and the possibility of blue babies. There has been one instance of blue babies in this country since 1972 and it is extremely easy to cure with one injection. Research at Aberdeen University completely and utterly exploded the connection between nitrates and stomach cancer.
The European Community therefore, in its wisdom, introduced a directive for which there is absolutely no scientific reasoning. I showed the Minister the article in the chartered surveyors' magazine and also the article by Christopher Booker in the Daily Mail. I felt it only fair to give him some warning of what I intended to say.
Of course, we cannot ask that the scheme be stopped. But it is extraordinary that we are putting into legislation something which will cost the farming industry and the taxpayer a lot of money for no conceivable health benefit whatever. One farmer, Mr. Horvath, has to change his whole farming process because of the possible danger of nitrate run-off from his farm into the local river. Upstream of him the local sewage works is putting into the river far higher levels of nitrates and yet is not affected at all.
Will the Government please, please, occasionally get a grip on some of the directives which come out of Brussels for which there is no conceivable scientific or logical basis? I am laying aside for the moment, only temporarily, anything to do with BSE which has also shown that to be the case.
Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, I shall not hold up the proceedings for long. It is a little illogical that 1.5 million acres have been designated as NVZs, large parts of which have no nitrate problem at all. For some extraordinary reason--to suit the water companies or some other government creations--they are being designated as nitrate vulnerable zones. That is entirely wrong.
Considering that one may be forced to alter one's farming system and pay out up to £85,000, the grant is not very generous, particularly if one is in an area of low nitrates. I cannot believe that this is a logical scheme. It certainly does not appear logical to those farmers with low nitrate exposure who are being put to such expense with what is a lower rate of subsidy.
Lord Stewartby: My Lords, unfortunately I did not arrive in time to hear the beginning of my noble friend's remarks and he may already have answered this question. Can he say whether all other member states are as far ahead in implementing the directive as we are?
Lord Lucas: My Lords, I am not certain of the answer to the last question. My understanding is that some are well ahead of us. Indeed, some other countries decided to designate their entire land surface as nitrate vulnerable zones whereas we have taken the attitude, which I hope will please my noble friend Lord Onslow and the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, of being as selective as possible.
In some areas the nitrate problem was patchy--one borehole would have it and the next would not. Rather than designate an area like a patchwork quilt, with a few hectares at a time, some in a zone and some not, we took the decision to designate the entire geological structure. That will include some individual boreholes and areas where there is no nitrate problem inside the nitrate vulnerable zone. But that was done for reasons of convenience and operability of the scheme and has nothing whatever to do with the effects on any water companies. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, of that.
With regard to the other comments made by my noble friend Lord Onslow, I discussed these before when we addressed the question of the directive. The limit of 50 milligrammes per litre has been set by the World
The noble Lord, Lord Carter, is right to say that the levels of grant have been determined by the amount of money available. However, I am sure he recognises that both his party and mine accept the polluter pays principle. I am sure he would recognise that in most industries the Government make no contribution whatever to the amount of money needed to introduce pollution control measures. I am sure he would recognise that a shed full of pigs producing large quantities of slurry on an intensive system is a polluter and that it should not be regarded as being in quite the same category as an extensive farming enterprise, which we are confident will not be affected at all by the restraints in this measure. If you are keeping a totally extensive farming system with livestock, you will not be exceeding the limits set down under the directive.
Lord Lucas: My Lords, the problem with dairy cows comes because the farmer will tend to keep them inside during the winter and the system will be intensive for that period. If you are running a farmyard manure-based system, you will probably be totally unaffected by the directive. If you are running a slurry-based system and are in the habit of spreading the slurry on the land every other week during the course of the winter, you will be affected by it. Farmyard manure does not leach over the winter; slurry does. So it is a question of controlling the amount of pollution you are producing. You do not necessarily have to look at building a slurry lagoon if you can transfer to a manure-based system.
The noble Lord, Lord Carter, asked why the scheme does not apply to vehicles. In any livestock system vehicles will be required and will be in existence anyway for spreading. To the extent that they are not specialist spreading vehicles, they will be vehicles with many other purposes. We are looking at focusing the grants on the particular requirements of putting in manure and slurry storage facilities.
The noble Lord calculated the grant at £10,000 per farmer on average. If the scheme lasts for its full term, that might be about the right figure. We shall see what level of demand there is and we shall see how long it lasts. But we certainly envisage seeing it through until the end of the century.
The noble Lord bewailed the fact that those who know that where there is muck there is brass had been deprived of their additional income. I take note of that fact. I shall talk to my colleagues and hope that we will not repeat that mistake in the future.
The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, I should like him to clarify what the World Health Organisation said. I have information before me saying that the World Health Organisation published a book which dealt with the 50 milligramme per litre limit on nitrates in drinking water and said that the cancer risk of higher levels of nitrate is not scientifically proven. The sole reason for the 50 milligrammes per litre limit was the extraordinarily long word which I cannot even attempt to pronounce the second time around. This again is the blue baby syndrome. My noble friend has not answered my central point. Why are we accepting directives from the European Community for which there is absolutely no scientific need? He has not answered that point and it is a very important one.
Lord Lucas: My Lords, it is not a case of there being no scientific need. It is clear that there is a disease called blue baby syndrome or methaeglobinaemia. That is an awful compound word which is extremely difficult to get out even if one can spell it, which I am not sure I can. There is such a disease. It occurs in babies where there are high nitrate levels in water. There are no other known dangers of nitrate to human consumption. It is clearly something which is not part of the natural human diet and we should try to avoid stuffing large quantities of it into human drinking water and then find out in 20 years' time that there is a nasty consequence of having lots of it around. It is reasonable to take precautions against polluting when we do not know what the consequences will be. The costs of it to us, applying, as we are, the directive in the most careful possible way, are extremely small.
These orders specify the agreements as Community treaties under Section 1(3) of the European Communities Act 1972. They are mixed agreements. In other words, some of their provisions fall within Community competence and others fall within the competence of the member states. They require ratification by all member states, by the European Communities and by the relevant third country before they can enter into force. The draft orders need to be approved by both Houses so that Community obligations under the agreements may be implemented by the United Kingdom. These orders are of a standard nature but are of great interest because they are the first agreements that Europe has had with any of these countries.
The break up of the Soviet Union in 1991 presented us in the West with a unique opportunity to help the new sovereign independent states to find their place in the international order. The Baltics were of course a case apart. We were able to correct the mistakes of history and welcome these countries back into the European fold with the promise of eventual membership of the European Union. But for the 12 countries emerging out of the monolithic Soviet Union, the European Union needed to construct a new, individually tailored relationship with each of them. Membership of the European Union is not on the agenda so a different but nonetheless constructive framework was required. We needed to develop a relationship based on partnership and practical co-operation to help these countries through the difficult process of establishing genuine political and economic reform.
The partnership and co-operation agreements, which are explicitly based on respect for democratic principles, provide the flexibility to take account of the differences between, for instance, Russia and Kyrgyzstan. Generally, the agreements provide for regular political contacts, increased trading opportunities and wide-ranging economic co-operation.
The first such agreements were signed with Russia and Ukraine in 1994, and ratified by the UK in 1995. Negotiations with Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan have just been concluded. The European Union intends to negotiate partnership and co-operation agreements with the remaining countries of the former Soviet Union as soon as these countries are in a position to fulfil the political and economic obligations contained in such agreements.
It will take some time before the partnership and co-operation agreements come into force because of the need for ratification by all the parties. To bridge this gap, the European Community has negotiated interim agreements with each country. These agreements, which bring into early effect the trade provisions of the wider-ranging PCAs, can be suspended if one of the countries fails to fulfil its obligations, such as respect for democratic principles.
It is in all our interests that the process of reform in the former Soviet Union should succeed. The success of that process does not lie entirely in our hands. But I believe that the European Union can help that process along by providing practical support, just as we do bilaterally on our own programmes. The agreements provide a framework to achieve that objective of providing practical support. I commend the orders to the House. I beg to move.
Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 29th February be approved [13th Report from the Joint Committee].--(Baroness Chalker of Wallasey.)
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