HC Deb 23 July 1968 vol 769 cc251-3
30. Dr. Gray

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government what steps he has taken recently to help local authorities to deal with oil pollution.

31. Mr. Loveys

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government whether he will make a statement giving details of his recent circular issued to local authorities concerning grants for clearing oil pollution from the beaches.

Mr. Greenwood

I am sending my hon. Friend and the hon. Member copies of a circular and technical manual sent to all coastal local authorities on 8th July. Copies are also available in the Library. The circular asks county and county borough councils to make schemes for mutual aid; describes arrangements for help from the Armed Services; and says that, pending legislation, the Department will consider applications for a 50 per cent. grant towards the cost of clearance and provision of equipment.

Dr. Gray

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the steps already taken. Will he say what plans he has for an early warning system to be carried out by fast motor boats, helicopters or in other ways, so that local authorities can be warned in sufficient time that oil pollution is about to take place?

Mr. Greenwood

I have great sympathy with what my hon. Friend wants, but an early warning system on the scale which he envisages would involve quite disproportionate expense. We do have an early warning system, and I hope that this will be made even more efficient under the new arrangements which I have proposed in the circular.

Mr. Loveys

While appreciating that the new 50 per cent. grant to be allowed by the Minister will certainly be of help, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider, as local authorities are in no way responsible for the unfortunate occurrence of oil pollution on their beaches, that the grant should be for the full 100 per cent. of the cost of clearance?

Mr. Greenwood

I have given great attention to the point which the hon. Gentleman raises, because I can understand the attitude of the coastal authorities. I have come to the conclusion that 50 per cent. of the admissible expenditure by the ratepayers and 50 per cent. by the taxpayer is a fair distribution of the burden.

Mr. Peter Mills

Will the Minister bear in mind the very real worry and concern that many authorities in the South-West have over the transfer of oil from tanker to tanker in Torbay? Is he aware that the result of an accident here could have the most disastrous effects on the South-West beaches?

Mr. Greenwood

I appreciate the anxieties to which the hon. Gentleman has rightly called our attention. Our best advice at present is that the danger is minimal, but we are keeping the situation under review, and so are the oil companies concerned.

Dr. John Dunwoody

While thanking my right hon. Friend for the work that he and his Department have done in this area over the last year or two, may I impress upon him that there is a very real problem being faced by the small local authorities in tourist areas through oil pollution? Can he look into the possibility of giving them a little more early warning than they get at present?

Mr. Greenwood

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he has said. I will certainly look at the possibility of improving the early warning system, but I am pretty confident that this is one of the results which will flow from the new proposals we are making to local authorities as to mutual help.

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