The UK government is not prepared to support the pesticides legislation being hammered out in the EU this autumn, said parliamentary under-secretary in the Department for Work & Pensions Lord Bill McKenzie. Lord McKenzie joined experts at the conference on weed control on 2 October to debate the future of the sector.
"Unfortunately, the negotiations in Brussels have not proceeded as we would have wished," said Lord McKenzie, who has responsibility for the Health & Safety Executive.
"We are unable to support the text. However, we do hope that suitable amendments will be made as the negotiations continue this autumn."
The legislation comes under the overarching EU Thematic Strategy for Pesticides. It includes a proposed regulation to replace the Pesticide Authorisation Directive 91/414/EEC, as well as a proposed new Sustainable Use Directive that could severely restrict or prohibit use of pesticides in sensitive areas such as around schools and hospitals.
The head of the Pesticides Safety Directorate's environment policy branch, Adrian Dixon, said the no-spray zones were proving a particular point of contention.
"Member states say this is not scientifically based and want it to be down to science, not politics. "This is one where we firmly say 'What is the science behind it?'
"The UK is still lobbying hard and trying to defeat the thing on logic and science but when you are in higher-level political discussions other things hold sway."
Lord McKenzie said the Government would not support the substantial no-spray zones set out in the Sustainable Use Directive.
He said: "On a number of fronts we think the approach of the EU is unduly restrictive and not based on science. Decisions have to be based on facts and evidence. We will not recommend the adoption of such measures and will do all we can to influence the debate."
Network Rail's senior lineside engineer Dr Neil Strong is heavily involved with vegetation management and said the organisation was lobbying MEPs, as well as MPs.
He added: "No one has the workforce to do all manual clearance - we can do the work but not without the use of herbicides."