HC Deb 02 July 1987 vol 118 cc618-9
9. Mr. Alton

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what are the latest levels of contamination resulting from the Chernobyl fall-out in grass in areas under restriction for movement of sheep, compared with June 1986.

Mr. Gummer

The latest progress report on a survey of Cumbrian vegetation commissioned by the Ministry from the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology indicates a substantial decrease in contamination levels over the last 12 months. I have placed a copy of the report in the Library of the House.

Mr. Alton

I am grateful for that reply, but may I ask how many hectares of land continue to be contaminated, and how much longer it will be before that land can again be used for grazing? Will the Minister continue to provide compensation this year? How much compensation has already been paid out? Does he not agree that his Department's initial response was extraordinarily complacent, given the events that have followed?

Mr. Gummer

No, I certainly do not think that. We were very much faster off the mark than any other country in Europe, provided much more generous compensation than any other country in Europe, have done very well by the farmers in those circumstances and shall continue to do so. The hon. Gentleman ought to stop whingeing about an extremely well-run policy. It is not a question of the acres of land that are covered, but of the number of sheep that have been affected. Four hundred thousand sheep are still affected, and I can assure the hon. Gentleman that up to now we have spent £4,347,097 on compensation and that there is still opportunity for compensation to be paid.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

What about this contamination getting into food? Is it not true that while Britain allows exports of food containing 1,000 Bq per kilo, it prevents imports of goods with more than 600 Bq? Is not the inconsistency in that position the reason why the Kuwaitis, the Egyptians, the Israelis, the Iranians, the Philippinos, the Malayans and the people of Hong Kong and Singapore have returned shipments of British food exports to the United Kingdom over the last month? Is that not an inconsistency in our position?

Mr. Gummer

I hope that it will not be considered improper if I say that I would prefer to rely upon expertise in Britain than on expertise in many of the countries mentioned by the hon. Gentleman. The standards imposed in this country are clearly advised by our scientists to make the food consumed here and for export entirely safe. We stand by that.

Mr. Home Roberston

Does not the Minister's initial reply to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) indicate that the Government do not feel that it will be necessary to maintain the movement restrictions for much longer? Following the Prime Minister's written reply to the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, North (Sir T. Skeet) on 30 June, can the Minister say what staff and resources will be deployed by his Department on long-term contingency plans to deal with the ever-increasing risk of nuclear accidents, either in this country or further afield?

Mr. Gummer

With respect, the hon. Gentleman's last comment was somewhat tendentious. Whether or not the risk is ever-increasing, we have said that will employ the staff and resources that are necessary. We are looking carefully at the way in which we will respond in the future and are trying to learn the lessons that we ought to learn from what has happened in the past.

I do not want to prognosticate on when the movement restrictions will be lifted entirely. They will be lifted as and when it is entirely safe to do so, and we have a very high margin of safety, as this is a matter affecting food. That is why I can say with such confidence to the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) that this country puts the safety of people, both here and abroad, first.

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