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Volume 130: debated on Thursday 31 March 1988

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To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will give figures for the amount of nitrates applied to land in Britain in each of the years (a) 1960, (b) 1970, (c) 1980 and (d) 1987.

Such information is not available, as details are not maintained of the proportion of nitrates contained in fertilisers applied to land. Nitrates are, of course, only one form of nitrogen found in such fertilisers.

The amount of nitrogenous fertiliser applied in the past 30 years has more than trebled. In view of the serious problem of pollution of water supplies by nitrates in eastern Britain and the major role that deintensification and low-input agriculture could play in reducing Common Market surpluses, will the Minister consider introducing curbs on the use of nitrogenous fertilisers? I have in mind either a tax on nitrogenous fertiliser or, in areas that are severely affected by nitrate pollution, a complete prohibition on the use of nitrogenous fertilisers.

The Government are still considering the options that were identified in the nitrate co-ordination group report. They are complex matters. It is important that we get any policy changes or other proposals resulting from the report absolutely right. Although we are considering what should be done in the light of the report, I do not think that a tax is an effective or efficient means of reducing cereals and other crops in surplus; nor do I think that it would necessarily have the impact that the hon. Gentleman requires. It would have to be a very high tax indeed. Of course, it would operate indiscriminately. Therefore, I am not sure that it is the right approach to take. We are still considering the report in general and will make our views known as soon as we possibly can.