HC Deb 19 April 1978 vol 948 cc421-2
2. Sir John Gilmour

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what estimate he has made of the impact on the fishing industry of exploration for oil inside the estuary of the Firth of Forth.

The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Hugh D. Brown)

The impact on the fishing industry of oil and gas exploration in United Kingdom waters, including the Forth estuary, is carefully considered by the Government as and when such developments are proposed. Apart from seismic surveys on which local fishermen were consulted, there has not been any oil exploration in the Forth estuary.

Sir J. Gilmour

As it would appear that the seismic survey is likely to lead to further drilling for oil, and since the fishermen already have to contend with the dumping of sludge and ammunition and the possibility of a pipeline across the estuary, does the Minister agree that it will be pretty tough going in the Forth estuary?

Mr. Brown

I do not agree. There has been an excellent relationship between the authorities—the Gas Corporation, the Coal Board and the oil companies—and the Firth of Forth fishermen, who are extremely voluble in conveying their comments and protests to the hon. Member. I do not anticipate any difficulty. There was a seismic survey, but that fact does not enable me to say whether there is oil under the Firth of Forth.

Mr. Grimond

Is the Minister aware that there have been many complaints from fishermen about debris resulting from oil exploration and other oil activities in the North Sea? Have the Government been able to do any more about this? Has notification been improved? Has the Minister any hopes of a general insurance scheme that will cover damage from this source?

Mr. Brown

In 1974 the Government set up the Fisheries and Offshore Oil Consultative Group, which provides a forum for discussion of the more general issues between the oil companies concerned, the fishermen and any other interested parties. This issue gives rise to a real problem, and we constantly remind the oil companies of their obligations not to dump debris in places where it could cause difficulties.

Mr. Watt

Will the Minister ensure that equipment used by the companies in exploring for oil or exploiting oil resources is clearly marked, so that it can be readily identified by any fisherman who happens to pick it up in his boat's propeller?

Mr. Brown

It is tempting for oil companies and anyone else to dump things over the side and hope that they do not cause damage. It is equally tempting for fishermen whose nets are damaged to put the blame on the oil companies. This is a problem, but I am satisfied that a degree of understanding and co-operation exists.

Mr. Teddy Taylor

Will the Minister consider this question more seriously than he appeared to in replying to my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Gilmour)? The problem causes genuine concern. Is the Minister aware that my hon. Friend enjoys the confidence of the fishing community far more than the Minister does, especially after the Minister's scandalous speech at Peterhead, describing the 50-mile limit issue as pure gimmickry?

Mr. Brown

The last point in the hon. Gentleman's question does not arise on this Question. I am treating the subject seriously. It is one upon which hon. Members make representations, and I am sure that the hon. Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Gilmour) has no complaint about the way in which I treat his complaints or suggestions to me.