HC Deb 22 June 1978 vol 952 cc706-8
Q2. Dr. Edmund Marshall

asked the Prime Minister whether he will establish a Department of Marine Affairs.

The Prime Minister

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's suggestion, but he may assume that I do not intend to make any changes in departmental organisation or responsibilities unless and until I make a statement to the contrary.

Dr. Marshall

When so many of our urgent political problems associated with the sea—problems relating to fishing, tanker disasters, oil development and hydrography—involve so many Government Departments and agencies, would they not be dealt with more effectively within a single new Department?

The Prime Minister

It is a matter of judgment. I have considered the matter very carefully. In 1976, we made a thorough review of it. The fact that these activities extend so widely over a number of Departments means that they require co-ordination, which is done by the Lord Privy Seal at present. I am not yet persuaded that setting up yet another Ministry would add to the co-ordination, but I want to keep an open mind. If it seemed necessary to bring them together I would not hesitate to do so.

Mr. Grimond

Without necessarily setting up a new Department, will the Prime Minister look again at the chain of responsibility for dealing with pollution at sea to see whether there should be one senior Minister in ultimate control? What proposals are the Government making internationally to avoid the sort of disaster that overtook the "Amoco Cadiz"?

The Prime Minister

The Lord Privy Seal has an overall responsibility for coordination where a number of Departments are involved, but basically, of course, this matter falls to the Department of Trade, which is now responsible for our marine interests generally.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to the "Amoco Cadiz" and other disasters. First, I have asked that a full report should be prepared on the "Amoco Cadiz" disaster and the "Eleni V" incident—although "disaster" is probably better word to use—and when we have considered that report we shall consider whether the matter is best raised through the Inter-Governmental Maritime Consultative Organisation or through the European Council. Either might be appropriate.

Mr. Hooley

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the creation of a 200-mile exclusive economic zone creates a new situation and that the structure of government needs to be revised so that we as a nation can take advantage of the enormous riches below the sea bed which this possibility gives to us?

The Prime Minister

My previous answer covered that. I am not persuaded that it needs a new Ministry to do this. When the 200-mile zone looked as though it were being extended, I reviewed the whole matter and gave an answer in the House, saying what steps were being taken to ensure that there was proper co-ordination so that we could make certain that our interests were properly safeguarded.

Sir Bernard Braine

Has the Prime Minister yet studied the Health and Safety Report on the terrifying risks of death and injury to which my constituents are exposed, including risks arising from the possible interaction of accidents to liquid gas, oil and chemical carriers and land-based hazardous installations? Has the right hon. Gentleman noted the lunatic proposal of that report that despite these risks oil refinery development on Canvey should be increased? Will he, therefore, take responsibility for these matters out of the hands of Departments which have hitherto been indifferent to the plight of Canvey and entrust them to a new Department?

The Prime Minister

I understand the hon. Gentleman's concern for his constituents, but I do not think that the establishment of a new Department of Marine Affairs would be likely to solve these problems. Perhaps he had better table a Question to the appropriate Minister.

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