HC Deb 19 November 1987 vol 122 cc1187-9
5. Dr. Moonie

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what research his Department is currently sponsoring into North sea pollution.

Mr. Gummer

This Department maintains an extensive monitoring and research programme in the North sea, which includes studies of fish and shellfish quality, water quality, conditions at sea disposal sites, and examination of the effects of a wide range of contaminants.

Dr. Moonie

I am sure that the Minister will share my concern about reports of the declining population of cetaceans in the North sea and of sickness among other species. What does he propose to do about the matter?

Mr. Gummer

I am always concerned when I hear reports of environmental damage or damage to particular species. We are spending about £1.5 million on work in the North sea alone and about £5.4 million in all on marine pollution. I look carefully at anything that suggests that we should be spending more or taking immediate action.

Sir Michael Shaw

Will my right hon. Friend accept the appreciation that is felt for his long-term work on incineration at sea? However, many fishermen in Scarborough fear pollution, because they claim that the processes presently adopted by boats, such as the Vulcanus,are not being properly carried out?

Mr. Gummer

I perfectly well realise the concerns of fishermen in my hon. Friend's constituency and elsewhere. As he knows, the area to which he referred is in Dutch waters. We are anxious that the rules should be carefully kept, even though we carry out only a small amount of incineration. My hon. Friend underlines the point that decisions about the North sea should be made together by all the countries concerned, and that is why we are taking so active a part in the North sea conference.

Ms. Walley

Will the Minister therefore give an assurance that he will introduce the best up-to-date technology to prevent discharges into the North sea from Sellafield around the top part of the country?

Mr. Gummer

I am obviously anxious to ensure that Sellafield has the highest standards, and we have recently imposed further restrictions on how that waste should be discharged. I take my responsibilities in that area particularly seriously because of my own constituency interest in nuclear power.

Mr. Devlin

Will my right hon. Friend note the proposal before the Teesside development corporation to build a barrage across the River Tees because the present washing of effluent up and down the Tees, which is dumped in the lower Tees by several Teesside manufacturers, would mean that the lower part of that river would become polluted to the extent that it would be almost dead and that the pollution would inevitably be washed into the North sea? Will my right hon. Friend take note of that so that his Department will be able to establish some monitoring techniques before the proposal is put fully before the development corporation?

Mr. Gummer

I shall look most carefully at that. We are anxious to continue our policy of improving the quality of water in the North sea. Our contribution to pollution is much lower than that of many of our neighbours. We must aim at solving the major problems in front of us and at the same time prevent any new problems arising. That is why the conference that is about to open is important, and we hope to use it most effectively.

Dr. Godman

As some research shows that the dumping of industrial waste can damage fish stocks, and in the light of the relative shallowness and the near landlocked nature of the North sea, with its important fisheries, does it not make better sense, if dumping has to continue, that waste should be sent out to the far Atlantic in suitably equipped ships?

Mr. Gummer

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to the fact that we live alongside a sea that is widely used and has many shallow areas. For that reason, we look carefully at any dumping that goes on, upon which considerable restrictions have been placed over the years. In every case we look at the best available scientific response. If there were circumstances in which it seemed that we should change the way that we do things, I would be the first to do so because we have a real responsibility to protect not only the fish but the North sea environment.