§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Marcus Fox)
Information about oil pollution incidents at sea is part of the responsibility of the marine pollution control unit reporting to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade. A contingency plan is being drawn up, however, for the coordination by the Department of the Environment of the local authorities' response to a very major incident threatening the coast and this will include co-ordination of information for local authorities.
§ Mr. Adley
May I thank my hon. Friend for his prompt response to our recent problems on the South Coast? However, does not his answer confirm that the Department of Trade and my hon. Friend's Department are responsible in part, with the Minister of Defence and the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food also being involved? Will my hon. Friend assure the House that he appreciates that these problems are aggravated by delay in dealing with them, that there is need for firm control and that somebody should be in overall charge especially in the early stages of the pollution problem?
§ Mr. Fox
I hoped that I had assured my hon. Friend that the Department of the Environment had a co-ordinating 1419 role. I understand his anxieties. The main problems are speed and communication. My Department and the Department of Trade are giving these matters careful consideration, bearing in mind the recent incident.
§ Mr. Douglas
Will the Minister assure us that his Department and the Secretary of State for Scotland co-ordinate with the Department of Trade? With reference to the recent incident on the Forth, will he indicate whether the Ministry of Defence is also involved?
§ Mr. Grimond
Is the Minister aware that this matter, which he says is of considerable urgency, has been going on for a considerable time and that local authorities are still not satisfied about co-ordination and speed? What are the means at his disposal for finding the oil slicks?
§ Mr. Henderson
As oil pollution does not know where the Scottish-English border is, will my hon. Friend confirm that he has arrangements to ensure—together with his hon. Friends in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and in the Scottish Office—that the fishery grounds will be carefully protected?
§ Mr. Dalyell
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that that is one of the most confused answers that we have had in this Pariament? After all that, where does the departmental buck stop?
§ Mr. Fox
I think that the House is deeply concerned about this issue, and the buck would quickly stop somewhere. I 1420 have the feeling that the Department of the Environment would be at the fore-front and that before the buck reached my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State it would stop with me.
§ Mr. David Atkinson
Is my hon. Friend aware of the heavy cost to local ratepayers along the South Coast as a result of oil pollution on the beaches? What assurance can he give them that they will not be faced with more bills later in the year?