HC Deb 02 July 1979 vol 969 cc881-4
3. Sir Bernard Braine

asked the Secretary of State for Trade whether the sum of £1.5 million mentioned in his Department's publication "Improved arrangements to combat pollution at sea" covers specialised equipment for use in off-loading oil, chemicals and liquefied gases from ships involved in serious accidents and, if not, what arrangements have been made for off-loading such hazardous cargoes in the Thames estuary.

Mr. Tebbit

The sum mentioned includes an estimate of the cost of two caches of specialised equipment for off-loading oil and most chemicals from stricken tankers.

Sir B. Braine

Obviously the answer is "No". Is my hon. Friend aware that his answer makes no reference at all to the greatest hazard of all, liquefied natural gas, 12,000 tons of which are off-loaded at Canvey in my constituency every week? Is he aware that, in the light of modern knowledge, the transhipment and storage of liquefied natural gas is a major hazard and is being carried out next door to 34,000 people? Is it not clear that there is no way of unloading an LNG tanker in trouble save to another tanker, unless it is taken to and off-loaded at Canvey? This is a risk which is unacceptable to the local authorities. Therefore, will my hon. Friend at once consult his colleagues to ensure that LNG is banned from the Thames estuary altogether?

Mr. Tebbit

First, my hon. Friend asks me whether the sum in question covers specialised equipment for use in off-loading oil—which it does—chemicalswhich it does—and liquefied gases—which it does not yet do. So the answer might have been "Yes, yes and no." But my hon. Friend would have thought that to be a very curious answer indeed had I given it to him in that form.

Secondly, indeed we understand my hon. Friend's anxiety and that of his constituents. He is correct in saying that there are considerable difficulties in offloading liquefied gas carriers. They are now being considered. We are trying to see what ways exist for improving matters. We are taking into account the report of the Health and Safety Executive on all these matters.

Mr. Grimond

Where in Scotland are stocks of specialised equipment kept for dealing with accidents of this sort? Will the Minister assure us that the lessons of the accidents which have already taken place at Sullom Voe have been learned and that the necessary steps have been taken to prevent any further such occurrences?

Mr. Tebbit

The right hon. Gentleman asks where in Scotland stocks are kept. To the best of my belief, there is not a cache of the Government's stores in Scotland. They are positioned at such places that they can best be moved to wherever the need arises. There are caches of company-owned equipment at other places. The nearest Government stores to Scotland would probably be that at Pembroke, which is positioned in order that it can be air-lifted as soon as possible to the site where it is needed. But there is not the money available to position stocks everywhere.

Mr. Adley

Nevertheless, is my hon. Friend aware that in the Solent area, where the "Tarpenbek" is currently floundering around, there is widespread dissatisfaction with the methods continuing to be employed by his Department in coping with the problem of off-loading oil? Will he now give an assurance that he personally will look into the technology which is available, and will also look into the worrying question that his own Department's developed technology, which the Department seems intent on pushing to the exclusion of everything else, is given no more priority than it deserves in accordance with its ability to deal with off-loaded oil problems?

Mr. Tebbit

I have been looking at the matter, as my hon. Friend can imagine, especially as we have a tanker in trouble at present. I am satisfied that the way in which that tanker has been dealt with is the best possible way that it could have been dealt with. No doubt, when the incident has been completely dealt with, we can review the situation, and I think that my hon. Friend will come to the same conclusion.

Mr. Clinton Davis

Does not the hon. Gentleman's answer that the nearest cache of equipment to Scotland is in Pembroke sound nonsense? Are there not further caches of equipment around the coast that are available? Will the hon. Gentleman acquaint the House with what I think the whole House wants to know? What further actions are the present Government taking following the Department's publication "Improved arrangements to combat pollution at sea"?

Mr. Tebbit

I think that the hon. Gentleman might assume that if I gave an answer I did not think that it was nonsense. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] What he thinks of it is another matter. As he knows, I thought that most of the answers which he used to give were nonsense, too. On the other hand, however, I have been in my present office for about eight weeks. I have been building on the work which was done in that office during the hon. Gentleman's time there and, in particular, on the organisation which was set up for dealing with pollution. As time goes on, we shall improve it.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. Both questions and answers seem to be rather longer today.

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