HC Deb 22 November 1995 vol 267 cc646-7
5. Ms Roseanna Cunningham

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what was the Scottish Office response to environmental concerns arising from munitions dumping in the south-west of Scotland; and if he will make a statement. [775]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Raymond S. Robertson)

The Scottish Office contributed fully to the emergency services' excellent response in dealing with the phosphorous devices. It has provided data on materials deposited under licence in the Irish sea and recently brought forward its planned marine survey of the Beaufort's dyke area.

Ms Cunningham

As the Ministry of Defence has admitted that many of the relevant munitions dumping records have been destroyed, does the Minister agree that it is enormously important to know that there is at least one individual—former Army Captain Buchan of Peterhead—who was directly involved in the dumping in the 1940s? Will he outline what arrangements the Scottish Office is making to interview Mr. Buchan to establish the extent of his direct information and to establish whether there are others in his position? If such arrangements are not being made, will he explain why not?

Mr. Robertson

It is unfortunate for the hon. Lady's understanding of the issue that neither she nor any of her hon. Friends were present in the Chamber when we last debated this issue last Wednesday. The Ministry of Defence's advice is that any munitions on the sea bed are potentially dangerous and should be left undisturbed. It will be for the relevant Government Departments to consider the appropriate action if the survey detects significant quantities of munitions outwith the designated dump site. I am sure that the hon. Lady will be the first to agree that we should wait until we have the results of the survey that is being undertaken before we reach any conclusions and before any Department decides what it should do.

Mr. Donohoe

The Minister may be aware that a public inquiry has been held on the overland route of the electrical interconnector in Scotland and Northern Ireland. What has not been covered by any public inquiry is its route under the sea. Given the latest concerns in relation to the laying of British Gas's pipeline, does the Minister think that it is now time for a public inquiry about its route under the sea?

Mr. Robertson

There is no hard evidence to substantiate any of the claims that the laying of the gas pipeline was responsible for the devices arriving on the beach: there is circumstantial evidence, but no hard evidence. We must wait until we have the results of the survey that is being undertaken. We have said—and I repeat to the House—that the results of the survey will be published in full when we have them.

Mrs. Ray Michie

In that connection, which Department will be responsible if compensation has to be paid to somebody who was injured by one of the phosphorous devices that washed up on the beaches around the west coast of Scotland? Would it be the Scottish Office, the Department of Trade and Industry, the Ministry of Defence or, indeed, British Gas?

Mr. Robertson

I know that the hon. Lady has pursued the issue with great vigilance because one of her constituents has been injured—the only person to be injured. I understand from the Department and others that he is making good progress and we wish him well. Compensation is still being discussed and once it has been finalised I shall write to her.

Mr. Beggs

The Minister will be aware that phosphorous incendiary devices have also been washed up on the east and north Antrim coast. May I have an assurance that the survey will be thorough and that it will examine the sea bed between the south-west Scottish coast and the east coast of Northern Ireland to protect the workers to whom the hon. Member for Cunninghame, South (Mr. Donohoe) referred, who are involved in laying the gas pipeline and who, I hope, will be involved with the interconnector when a favourable decision is made?

Mr. Robertson

I assure the hon. Gentleman that site scar sonar and other underwater television studies are being undertaken. Sea bed sediment samples will be taken by grab-sampling equipment. The Department will be fully involved with the other relevant Departments once the results of the survey are known.

Mrs. Liddell

As the Prime Minister has now acknowledged that the Government have got it wrong about the government of Scotland and are out of touch with Scottish public opinion, will Ministers recant the bluff and evasion that we have had on munitions dumping, and which we just heard from the Dispatch Box, and extend the technical capability of the survey and the areas to be covered by it to include all those where such dumping has taken place? May we also have an exact answer as to what the Government intend to do to protect public safety?

Mr. Robertson

I welcome the hon. Lady to the Dispatch Box: like me, she is a new kid on the block. I will write to her and answer her questions, if she can satisfy me about what she means by bluff and evasion. There has been no bluff, and no evasion.