§ 3.18 p.m.
My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.
§ [The Question was as follows:
§ To ask Her Majesty's Government whether, owing to risks to human and animal life, they have decided to prohibit the manufacture and use of arsenical sprays by agriculturists and others; and, if so, on what date the prohibition will become operative.]
THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY, MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES AND FOOD (EARL WALDEGRAVE)
My Lords, my right honourable friend announced on January 6 that agreement had been reached that the manufacture of alkali arsenites for use in this country as haulm destroyers and weed killers would cease forthwith, and that after this year's potato harvest these arsenites will be withdrawn from use. Meanwhile, the most stringent safety precautions will be observed. The use of lead arsenate and of arsenical sheep dips will not be affected. I would stress that this is a voluntary agreement that has been arrived at, and it reflects great credit on all concerned.
My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for his Answer, but are we to understand that, although the manufacture of these arsenical sprays has been prohibited, there are certain of them which are admittedly dangerous to human and animal life which will be allowed to go on and to be used? Is that the position?
Yes, my Lords. The most dangerous kind are what are called the alkali arsenites, which, as I say, will not be allowed to be used after this year's potato harvest. The stocks will be used up during this potato harvest; then they will not be used at all. That is next October. The other 642 forms of arsenic to be used as agricultural chemicals, which do not present such a grave risk, will continue to be used under the usual precautions.
Yes; but can the noble Earl inform us why, although certain of these sprays are dangerous to human and animal life, their use is still to be allowed'? And if there is a proved case of death, either of human or of animal, due to one of these sprays, on whom will the responsibility rest? Will it be on the Minister of Agriculture, of upon the Cabinet collectively?
My Lords, I should like to have notice of the last part of that question. The arsenites have been used for many years, and they can be safely used over this one remaining single season under the strict precautions laid down. That will give a period for the commercial development of less toxic substances. We cannot stop this thing straight away.
§ LORD DOUGLAS OF BARLOCH
Is not the object of this operation to enable the manufacturers to dispose of their existing stocks?
§ LORD AILWYN
My Lords, from the Answer to the Question I am not very clear about the situation of the organo-phosphorus insecticides which I believe to be the worst of these manufactures. Do I understand that no prohibition has been put on their manufacture?
No, my Lords; there is no prohibition on the manufacture of organo-phosphorus insecticides. They have a very useful part to play in agriculture, and the field of risk is not nearly so wide as in the case of the alkali arsenites.