Peers inflict defeat over government over post-Brexit farming standards
- Credit: Tim Ireland/PA Wire
The government has been defeated by peers demanding a ban on the use of pesticides in its flagship Agriculture Bill for farming standards after Brexit.
The House of Lords voted by 276 to 228, majority 48, for a cross-party amendment to require the Secretary of State to outlaw the use of chemicals close to the public, aimed at protecting human health.
The government had argued there was already a “robust” regulatory system in place governing the use of pesticides to prevent harm to people and warned the measure could hamper efforts to combat invasive species, such as Japanese knotweed, close to properties.
It was the latest defeat for the administration over the flagship legislation, which introduces a new support system for farmers as the UK quits the EU-wide Common Agricultural Policy post-Brexit.
Proposing the amendment, Labour former environment minister Lord Whitty said it would allow for the imposition of minimum distances “between the buildings in which people live and where the public frequent and the spraying operations of pesticides”.
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“This amendment is a vital but limited step in the right direction to protect human beings, primarily residents in rural areas, by requiring spraying to keep well away from homes and public buildings and places where the public are congregating,” he added.
He was supported by independent crossbencher and cancer expert Baroness Finlay of Llandaff, who argued that failing to introduce the amendment would leave a hole in the UK’s legislative framework “which will be extensively exploited by the pesticide industry to the detriment of human health and the long-term improvement of a bio-diverse ecology”.
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Tory peer Lord Randall of Uxbridge, who served as Theresa May’s special adviser on the environment, also spoke in favour of the measure.
He said: “This is about protecting human life. If we haven’t learned that sometimes those people who assure us that everything is all right, when it patently isn’t. We only have to think back to the tobacco industry and also asbestos.
“We would be failing ourselves, our public and our fellow human beings if we do not recognise the harmful nature of pesticides.”
Signalling her support, Labour frontbencher Baroness Jones of Whitchurch said: “This is an immediate issue of public health protection.”
Rural affairs minister Lord Gardiner of Kimble said: “The government agrees that pesticides should not be used where they may harm human health or pose unacceptable risks to the environment.
“A robust regulatory system is in place to deliver that objective and to make sure an authorised product, used correctly, does not harm people.”
He pointed out that pesticides were important to help food production and protect infrastructure such as roads and railways.
Lord Gardiner added; “In extending to any pesticide and any building, we believe that the amendment is very sweeping and could well have undesirable and disproportionate effects.
“It would prevent the use of pesticides that are important for agricultural and horticultural productivity, but pose no danger whatsoever to public health. For example, a product used in a permanent greenhouse.
“It could also prevent the use pesticides which are used for the effective control of Japanese knotweed close to buildings.”
Georgina Downs, from the UK pesticides campaign, welcomed the result. She said: "This is obviously a very significant result for the many millions of rural residents and communities throughout the country who, like myself and my family, have our homes and properties in the locality of pesticide sprayed fields.
"The government has fundamentally failed to protect people in the countryside from pesticides and has also knowingly allowed residents to continue to suffer from both acute and chronic adverse health effects without taking any action to prevent the exposure, risks and adverse impacts occurring".