HC Deb 19 November 1987 vol 122 cc1185-6
2. Ms. Ruddock

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he will recommend a date for the termination of burning waste at sea, ocean incineration, as agreed by delegates at the sixth meeting of the Oslo Commission in 1981.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. John Selwyn Gummer)

This is one of the questions which will be discussed at next week's ministerial conference on the North sea in London, and one to which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment and I will be giving careful attention.

Ms. Ruddock

I thank the Minister for his reply. Is it not true that the British Government have already blocked a proposal by the Nordic countries to end incineration at sea by 1991? As the Government are a signatory to the Oslo agreement, surely they have a commitment to set a date for termination prior to 1990.

Mr. Gummer

The Oslo agreement demands that there should be a date for termination. We will listen to the arguments carefully. The United Kingdom is responsible for only about 3 per cent. of the waste incinerated on the North sea, but we are concerned to ensure that the destruction of waste is done in the most ecological way. A difficulty facing the hon. Lady is that the scientific evidence shows that in many cases incineration is the best way of dealing with waste. We have to face that problem.

Sir Hugh Rossi

I congratulate Her Majesty's Government on the initiative taken in holding the North sea conference on this matter, which is of great international anxiety. I congratulate also those concerned with the production of a consensus document agreed between the scientists of the countries concerned. Does my right hon. Friend agree that international co-operation, which involves give and take on our part as well as that of others, is the route to solving all these problems?

Mr. Gummer

I am sure that my hon. Friend is right about that. It is a matter to which the countries concerned must together find an answer. I think that my hon. Friend will also agree that any answer that we find should be based firmly on the scientific evidence and not derived from ulterior and exterior emotional answers.

Dr. David Clark

Why is the Minister so hesitant about joining all our North sea neighbours in calling a halt to incineration at sea, which is partly responsible for 30 per cent. of the fish caught in the German Bight being diseased? Is the Minister aware that the Government's hazardous waste inspectorate's report for 1986 says that ocean incineration should not be regarded as a long-term solution?

Mr. Gummer

The hon. Gentleman is incorrect. That is not the reason for the diseased fish. The United Kingdom Government want to find the best possible answer to this problem and we wish to go ahead on the basis of the best possible scientific information. We are holding the conference in order to come to a decision together. There is not much point in pre-empting the decisions of the conference.