§ Ms Roseanna Cunningham (Perth and Kinross)
I beg to move,That this House recognises the depth of public concern in Scotland and beyond at HM Government's failure to provide proper stewardship of Scotland's environment; notes the triple threat posed by plans to increase the number of reprocessing contracts at Dounreay, the disclosure of the munitions dump at Beaufort Dyke and continuing uncertainty over Shell's plans to decommission the Brent Spar; views with alarm reports that between five and fifteen thousand fuel rods of US origin may be destined for Dounreay, pending the decision by the USA Department of Energy; further notes that over a thousand phosphorus devices have been found along the shores of south west Scotland; is dismayed that crucial decisions affecting the Scottish people are taken without any semblance of public consultation; calls on Her Majesty's Pollution Inspectorate to refuse to grant any further applications for discharge authorisations at Dounreay; demands an urgent investigation into the munitions dump at Beaufort Dyke so that the dangers posed to the public and the marine environment can be properly assessed; urges the Government to refuse any application for a licence for the offshore disposal of the Brent Spar or any other North Sea installation until such disposal can be assessed by an independent authority; and rejects the contemptuous treatment which fleeces Scotland of its natural resources while imposing unacceptable environmental dangers upon the Scottish population, threatening industries such as fishing, farming, food processing, whisky and tourism which depend crucially on Scotland's perception as a country with a clean environment.In choosing this topic for today's debate, my colleagues and I in the Scottish National party seek to highlight what we consider to be the real concerns that are uppermost in the minds of Scottish people. We have chosen to focus on three specific issues.
First, I refer to the disclosure by the Ministry of Defence in June of this year that more than 1 million tonnes of conventional munitions had been dumped at Beaufort dyke off the south-west coast of Scotland over 50 years, between the 1920s and the 1970s. Secondly, there is the prospect of up to 15,000 spent nuclear fuel rods of United States origin making their way to Dounreay for reprocessing, with all the risks that that will inevitably entail, both at Dounreay and in the course of transportation. Thirdly, I want to mention the continuing uncertainty over the disposal of Brent Spar, with the Government refusing to rule out the idea that it could yet be dumped at sea.
Each of these issues is of vital importance to every man, woman and child in Scotland, because of their impact on the perception of Scotland as a clean country on which so many of our vital industries depend—farming, fishing, food processing, whisky and tourism. Each issue is different, but they all have one thing in common: they raise questions about the safety of people's lives, the security of their jobs and the sustainability of their communities.
They also have something else in common—an apparent view of Scotland as some kind of convenient waste disposal unit. That certainly makes a change from 832 the Thatcher years, when Scotland appeared to be regarded as a testing ground, but I do not think that the people of Scotland will regard it as a change for the better.
§ Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)
How many Scots have lost their lives as a result of the transport of nuclear equipment of any kind through Scotland?
§ Ms Cunningham
As the hon. Gentleman knows, that is not the point. We are discussing an enormous increase in the likelihood of risk. We are talking about risk in this debate. I shall return to that issue, but I want first to deal with Beaufort dyke, an issue of current concern up and down the west coast of Scotland.
If this debate had been held two years ago and an Opposition Member had stood up and said that more than 1 million tonnes of bombs, incendiary devices and other high explosives had been dumped in Scotland as a deliberate act of Government policy, he or she would no doubt have been accused of scaremongering and irresponsibility. Yet, on 29 June this year, that is exactly what the Ministry of Defence admitted, in a letter to the Irish Sea Forum:In total, we estimate that the Ministry of Defence may have disposed of over 1 million tons of conventional munitions within Beauforts Dyke … between the end of the war and December 1948 some 135,000 tons of conventional munitions were disposed of at this location. Subsequently other dumpings took place during the 1950s, particularly of aircraft bombs and disposals continued at a rate of about 20,000 tons per annum into the late 1950s".The letter goes on to state that, by the early 1970s, the annual tonnage had reduced to about 3,000 tonnes, and that Beaufort dyke was last used by the Ministry of Defence for general munitions dumping in 1973—although I understand that there was a further emergency dump in 1976. We are also told that, between July and October 1945, some 14,000 tonnes of 8-in artillery rockets filled with phosgene were similarly disposed of.
§ Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Lady, but is she aware that, in the period 1945 to 1955, many thousands of chemical warfare bombs were transported from Wales for dumping off the Scottish coast at Beaufort dyke, and that the safety of those bombs has been a matter of considerable concern?
§ Ms Cunningham
I was not aware of that, and I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's intervention, because it shows the extent of what has been going on in Beaufort dyke. Off the west coast of Scotland, we have the largest single underwater munitions weapons repository in western Europe. The Government have admitted that there was a 50-year programme of dumping between one of the UK's busiest shipping lanes, only six miles from the Scottish coast.
Neither Parliament nor the Scottish people have ever been told what was going on, let alone consulted. The Scottish people, their elected representatives and their environment have been treated with utter contempt by successive UK Goverments, as though they were physically and politically expendable.
I should point out that Stena Sealink carried 1.3 million passengers between Stranraer and Larne in the past year. Those waters are also home to deep-water trawlers and Royal Navy submarines. It is a busy channel. An undersea gas pipeline is being planned across the channel, with construction later this year. The company involved, Premier Transco, has already announced that it has 833 changed the planned route to take account of Beaufort dyke. When the Ministry of Defence concedes, however, that it does not have complete records, the situation is clearly fraught with difficulty.
The concern of the local population was summed up very well by the chief executive of Wigtownshire district council, Mr. Alastair Geddes, when he said:Nothing is more damaging than uncertainty. An inquiry should look at where the dumping took place, what was dumped and whether or not it remains in a stable condition and also if there is to be any danger in the future.There is understandable local concern about the impact that that uncertainty will have on the economy of the area. Wigtown had the lowest rate of economic growth in Scotland this year, and Upper Nithsdale had the highest level of unemployment in Scotland. Already, two shore front developers in Stranraer have threatened to withdraw their development plans, and uncertainty can only harm the economic prospects of those who have invested heavily in the area.
I now turn to the nature of the materials dumped in Beaufort dyke. Responding in 1985 to a question from the late right hon. Donald Stewart MP, the then Scottish Secretary, Mr. George Younger, said:Because of the non-toxic nature of the materials that have been dumped at Beaufort dyke it has not been considered necessary to check for leakage or environmental pollution."—[Official Report, 1985: Vol. 71, c. 518]Yet that statement is in direct contradiction of the letter of 29 June from the Ministry of Defence, which refers to the toxic potential of munitions materials. It is worth recalling the Department of the Environment's definition of toxic material, in May 1995:a substance which inhaled or ingested or penetrates the skin may involve serious, acute, or chronic health risks or even death.Yet, by their own admission, that is what has been dumped off the coast of Scotland.
Will the Minister confirm that, although the toxic potential of munitions material may be reduced by the combined effects of dilution, dispersion, hydrolysis and low temperatures, it is not eliminated? If, as the Government admitted in 1985, it was not their practice to check for leakage or environment pollution, on what scientific evidence do they base their assertion that the toxic potential of the munitions material has been reduced? Further inconsistencies demand clarification.
There is the whole question of the failure to mention any dumping of chemical weapons in the previous claim by the then Under-Secretary of State for Defence, Viscount Cranbourne, in a letter dated 13 October 1992 to the, hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan), that small quantities of chemical weapons were dumped at Beaufort dyke. The letter stated:small quantities of chemical weapons were sea dumped in 1945 in Beaufort's dyke a deep water … trench in the Irish Sea.Dr. Paul Johnston, a munitions expert at Exeter university, has said:The conventional weapons are still active and potentially explosive. The chemical drums are corroding and some may have been punctured.He has warned of what he says isa mind-blowing potential for an environmental disaster.834 The Ministry of Defence says that it is prepared to carry out a detailed survey of the dyke, but that, as long as the material remains undisturbed 263 fathoms below the waves, there is no cause for concern. The Government must be made to realise that only a full and urgent investigation will suffice.
§ Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley)
I am most grateful to the hon. Lady for raising this matter on the Floor of the House of Commons. Incidentally, I hope that she will bring the Scottish National party councillor for Newton Stewart on side with what she says and what I have been saying as well.
Does she agree that, although what is dumped in Beaufort dyke is bad, even worse is what has been dumped outside the permitted area of Beaufort dyke? Does she further agree that it is outrageous that, when we met the Secretary of State for Defence last week, he did not admit that the laying of the gas pipeline had been stopped for six days because of the dangers to which those laying it had been subjected?
Does she also agree that it is imperative that the Secretary of State for Scotland considers that when he is considering the report of the reporter into the proposed electricity interconnector with Northern Ireland, because that could also cause great disturbance of the munitions and chemicals that have been dumped outside Beaufort dyke? That is an extra reason why the proposal should be rejected.
§ Ms Cunningham
Some of the points raised by the hon. Gentleman will be brought out in the course of the debate. The matter is of great concern, because, while what has been dumped in Beaufort dyke is a matter of some uncertainty, what has been dumped in the surrounding area is a matter of even greater uncertainty. We shall be talking about that in a little more detail, because it highlights people's concern. If the Government themselves do not take any notice of what is going on, how can we possibly have any control over our environment?
I recognise that the Government have travelled some distance since expressing the view in 1985 that it was not necessary to check for leakage or environmental pollution, but they will have to go much further if they are to allay public anxieties.
Why, having written to the Secretary of State for Scotland more than a month ago calling for a public inquiry, has Wigtown district council still to receive a reply? Will the Minister confirm that the gathering of water samples at the north channel dump site by the Ministry of Agriculture. Fisheries and Food were concluded in August? If that is the case, will details be published? The Ministry of Defence letter of 29 June said that results would be released on completion of the tests. If those tests were completed in August, we would all be interested to know what immediate publication meant.
Finally, it is a matter currently causing great concern that more than 1,000 phosphorus devices have been scattered along the shore of south-west Scotland. Can the Government give us any information about that? On Saturday, we learned from the national press that a four-year-old boy had come across a phosphorus flare and been burned. In March 1994, the then Minister of State for the Armed Forces, now the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the right hon. Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley), said that 835 investigations had been unable to identify the origins or purpose of those objects, except that records showed that no phosphorus objects were ever stored at Beaufort dyke.
I dare say that people on the west coast of Scotland would be obliged if the Government could do something fairly soon about finding out, if they do not already know, precisely what these things are and from where they come. It seems quite extraordinary that they are washing up in such vast numbers, yet the Government appear thus far not to wish to take any view on them. That cannot be enough when it is clear that the devices have been washed ashore from somewhere, and continue to be.
I am sorry to say that the overwhelming impression currently being given is of near indifference to the public's real and understandable concern. In the face of that, it is little wonder that public confidence has been so undermined. We are suffering now for decisions made decades ago. We must have action now, so that we do not suffer in future decades for the current lack of decisions.
Environmental decisions cannot be made on an ad hoc basis, having regard only to the short term. All the matters raised today have serious long-term implications, and none more so than another matter raised in the motion—the possibility that the United States Government will decide to send between 5,000 and 15,000 US-origin spent fuel rods to Dounreay for reprocessing.
The volume of such a transportation affects most of Scotland—and, indeed, may well affect large parts of England as well. The port of entry may be Scrabster, Aberdeen or Leith; the route will go right through the centre of Scotland, up through its most populated areas. Indeed, if the items are brought ashore at English ports, they will go right through the most heavily populated parts of England as well. Once the fuel rods have arrived at Dounreay and been reprocessed, waste is likely to be retained for up to 25 years.
The irony of all this is that the United States Government have been carrying out an on-going consultation exercise among the US population, and we are told that a decision is imminent. The United States Government appear to have regarded the issue as serious enough for detailed consideration; whatever we may think of the range of possible options, the contrast with what is happening in Scotland could not be more acute. The United States Government have engaged in no consultation there—unless my questionnaire has been lost in the post. Their openness does not appear to extend to us who are likely to be most affected. Nor have our own Government engaged in any consultation.
The whole issue of Dounreay is very controversial. In view of that, should there not be consultation before we proceed? There has been an appalling loss of confidence in Dounreay over the years. I shall refer to only a few of the more recent developments that have led to that loss of confidence, but I could mention many others.
A report published in May this year by the Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment, and the Radioactive Waste Management Advisory Committee, does nothing to allway public concern about Dounreay. The then chair of the advisory committee said:The contamination on the beach and within the site has proved to be higher than I had previously been told. I received the highest radiation dose I have ever recorded during my time with the RWMAC while standing at the top of the waste disposal shaft. To say they"—he was referring to the Dounreay management— 836were lying is not an unreasonable conclusion to reach.That sentiment is echoed by the chair of the Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment. A further eight hot spots have been found since the sweep began in July; moreover, particles found on the foreshore are apparently likely to cause death if ingested. For that, we can thank Dr. Wheldon of the committee.
Those are only the most recent examples in a catalogue of contamination reaching many years back. The lack of public confidence in Dounreay is well founded; yet we may face a considerable increase in activity if the United States opts for sending some or all those elements to Dounreay.
§ Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)
If, following widespread public consultation in the United States, it is concluded that it would be a good idea to send all this material for reprocessing in Scotland, is it not reasonable to suppose that the outcome of widespread public consultation in Scotland might be the conclusion that it would not be a good idea? No country wants to be the world's nuclear laundry.
§ Ms Cunningham
Indeed, although I was not planning to use the words "nuclear laundry" in the context of my speech—"nuclear dustbin" is used more often than "laundry", but if that United States decision is taken, it will lead to a massive increase in activity at Dounreay.
§ Mr. John Maxton (Glasgow, Cathcart)
I am listening carefully to the hon. Lady's speech, and I share many of her concerns about the transport and reprocessing of nuclear materials, but I notice that there is no mention of Sellafield in her motion. Is that because it is not in Scotland? Is she happy that the reprocessing should be done in Sellafield because it is not in Scotland? If so, is she aware that my constituents live nearer to Sellafield than to Dounreay?
§ Ms Cunningham
No. The decision was to highlight current environmental concerns in Scotland. We are, of course, concerned with environmental questions throughout the rest of the United Kingdom, and, indeed, in the rest of the world. When I come to the question of transportation, I will be talking about transport through England as well as across international waters, so it is not right for the hon. Gentleman to suggest that we are not interested in what is happening outside Scotland.
It is a question not just of on-site dangers, but of transportation dangers. The routes may be many and various, as I have already said. The road route passes through many of Scotland's most densely populated regions. As I said earlier, the spent fuel rods are brought ashore at ports in Aberdeen and Leith. All the regions on the east coast would be included, as well as the places that the A9 goes through. If the things are brought ashore in England, they will be transported through the heart of England. It may have been more interesting to hear some of the speeches of English Members who might be concerned if their constituencies were on those routes. Many people will have those concerns.
§ Mr. Bernard Jenkin (Colchester, North)
I speak as an English Member of Parliament very near to a nuclear 837 power station, and I welcome its contribution to a clean electricity supply. Will the hon. Lady make it clear that her party is still opposed to the principle of nuclear power, and explain how Scotland would possibly survive economically without 50 per cent. of its existing power generation?
§ Ms Cunningham
In Scotland, we currently export more power than we use. We are an energy-rich country, and there is no difficulty with making a conversion from nuclear energy to alternative sources of energy. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to have more details on that, he may see me later. I was discussing the dangers—
§ Ms Cunningham
No. I have given way frequently in the past 15 minutes. If the hon. Gentleman does not mind, I will continue, and make the point about the safety of transportation on land.
Undoubtedly, test accident standards are set down for specially designed flasks that carry this waste, but those standards cannot begin to accord with the standards necessary for what is likely to happen in a real accident.
For example, the test standards for transportation in the marine environment work on the basis of testing flasks for 30 minutes in fires of 800 deg C. I understand, however—we have the International Maritime Organisation to thank for these figures—that the average length of a shipboard fire at sea is 23 hours, and that the fire is likely to reach 1,100 deg C, so the test standards that are being applied are not the standards that are required if flasks are to cope with any such accident at sea.
If hon. Members doubt that, I refer them to a specific incident in 1991, when a ferry and a petroleum tanker collided off Livorno on the coast of Italy. The fire on the ferry burned for 45 hours and reached more than 1,000 deg C. That would suggest that test standards of anything less than those temperatures and those times are wholly unsatisfactory. Any such accident has serious—if not catastrophic—implications for the Scottish economy and its environment.
I understand that marine insurers refuse cover for radioactive contamination because of the scale of the likely effects of such an accident. The position on land is little better. Local authority emergency planning units get no warning whatsoever. The Highland and Islands fire brigade has no resources to deal with such an accident and has therefore called to an end to reprocessing at Dounreay.
Furthermore, Dounreay is touting for contracts in the United States, although Her Majesty's pollution inspectorate has not yet approved discharge reauthorisations, which have already been delayed for two years. When do the Government intend to publish the review currently being carried out? Will the Minister confirm that no contracts can be signed until those reauthorisations are approved? Ultimately, the decisions currently being taken will affect Scotland for the next 35 years, yet they are being taken by a management distrusted by the public and, in effect, by a foreign Government. That highlights the ultimate powerlessness of Scotland under the present regime.
838 The final part of our motion deals with Brent Spar, but expresses the same concerns that we raised about Beaufort dyke and reprocessing at Dounreay, and highlights our powerlessness under the present regime.
On 19 June, in his statement to the House after the G7 summit in Halifax, the Prime Minister told the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) that the proposition that Brent Sparcould have been taken inshore to be disposed of is incredible."—[Official Report, 19 June 1995; Vol. 262, c. 28.]However, since 1987, 914 platforms have been removed from the Gulf of Mexico and 13 from the North sea—including nine in the same depth range as the Brent Spar—to the shoreline. The same group of companies involved in the Gulf of Mexico removal own 140 of the 205 platforms in the North sea.
The industry has a wide range of experience in removal techniques and could help to revitalise the United Kingdom construction industry by utilising available skills and plant for the deconstruction of decommissioned platforms. At the heart of the Brent Spar controversy, I received phone calls from businesses in my constituency advising that they would be only too keen to be involved in such decommissioning.
§ Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)
Is the hon. Lady aware that one of the companies that she has just mentioned is currently seeking to persuade the Government of the sensibility of toppling the North-West Hutton platform on its side, in order to create a reef which will become rich with fish? Does she agree that that is a rationalisation and that toppling a structure is cheaper than bringing it ashore for dismantling?
§ Ms Cunningham
I was not aware of the specific instance to which the hon. Gentleman refers, but I was aware that reef forming with such structures has been carried out in other parts of the globe and is one of the many things that can be done with such installations.
My party endorses the ministerial declaration of the fourth international conference on the protection of the North sea which states:Even if the offshore installations are emptied of noxious and hazardous materials, they might still be, if dumped or left at sea, pose a threat to the marine environment. Disposal of such installations on land by recycling recyclable materials and by ensuring safe and controlled disposal of unavoidable residues would be in accordance with generally agreed principles of waste management policy.".In contrast to the sensible approach outlined in that document, which the United Kingdom refused to sign, the Minister for Industry and Energy, the right hon. Member for Enfield, North (Mr. Eggar) refused to rule out the disposal of the Brent Spar on 12 July, when he stated:I would not rule out the option of deep sea dumping for the Brent Spar in future."—[Official Report, 12 July 1995; Vol. 263, c. 935]That has created a great deal of uncertainty, and the Government's position should be clarified.
It would be far better if the Government did as suggested in today's edition of the Financial Times and adopted a co-ordinated international approach to the removal of North sea installations rather than simply adopting a case-by-case one. According to the Financial Times, such a proposal would mean that £630 million could be saved by the Government and the oil industry.
839 It is that case-by-case, ad hoc, short-term approach which causes the greatest concern about all environmental issues. As a result, the SNP is demanding three courses of action in the motion before the House. First, we demand an urgent investigation into Beaufort dyke and the surrounding sea area, so that the dangers posed to the public and the marine environment can be properly assessed.
Secondly, we call on Her Majesty's pollution inspectorate to refuse to grant any further applications for discharge authorisations at the Dounreay plant. Thirdly, we urge the Governmentto refuse any application for a licence for the offshore disposal of the Brent Spar or any other North Sea installation until such disposal can be assessed by an independent decommissioning authority".Westminster has turned Scotland into the largest single underwater munitions dump in western Europe, and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) has said, Dounreay into the world's nuclear laundry. They would quite happily see 150 Brent Spar installations dumped in the North sea. The Scottish National party is today signalling that the days when Scotland gets every dangerous substance dumped on its doorstep while it is fleeced of its natural resources are coming to an end.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Raymond S. Robertson)
I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:congratulates Her Majesty's Government on their environmental achievements in Scotland and applauds their continued commitment to the further protection and enhancement of the environment, notably through the creation of the Scottish Environment Protection Agency; supports the Government's view that United Kingdom's Atomic Energy Authority should be allowed to continue to undertake reprocessing of spent fuel, subject to the appropriate regulatory requirements being met, and that sound science and careful cost benefit analysis should continue to guide the Government in their consideration of issues affecting the marine environment, the matters of safety always to the fore.I congratulate the hon. Member for Perth and Kinross (Ms Cunningham) on her lively and vigorous speech. It is only a pity that it bears little resemblance to reality. Her description of Scotland's environment is a travesty of the reality, and she should not let her enthusiasm for debate triumph over her respect for the truth.
It is pleasure to see that some members of the shadow Scottish affairs Front-Bench team are present, considering that none of them bothered to turn up last night for a debate of vital importance to Scotland's fishing industry. Their absence has been noted by the fishing communities and fishermen's organisations.
A visitor to north-west Europe would soon see Scotland as something of an environmental beacon.
§ Mr. Wilson
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As someone who was here last night, I can say that the Minister's comment about that debate has the modest disadvantage of being completely untrue.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Geoffrey Lofthouse)
That is not a matter for me, but no doubt the Minister has taken note of it.
§ Mr. Robertson
I did not realise that the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) is a member of the shadow Scottish Front-Bench team.
§ Mr. Bill Walker
Is it not true that the Labour party's embarrassment is further deepened by the fact that, although it wants a Parliament in Edinburgh, its own Front Bench is comprised mostly of Scottish-based Scots, including its Chief Whip?
§ Mr. Robertson
My hon. Friend has made a valuable point. I said that no member of the shadow Scottish Front-Bench team was present last night. The hon. Member for Cunninghame, North has admitted that he is not a member of it, so I hope that he will withdraw his remark at some appropriate moment.
§ Mr. Wilson
It is a simple matter. The Minister should learn that it is a waste of a speech to make such stupid, false points. It is a matter of fact that the shadow Secretary of State for Scotland—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I apologise. I thought that the hon. Gentleman was making a point of order; I did not realise that the Minister had given way.
§ Mr. Wilson
There is no need to apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I do not want to take up time in the debate, but I do not want a straightforward, factual inaccuracy to remain on the record. For part of the time when I was present for the fisheries debate, the shadow Secretary of State was also present. The Minister made the same cheap point last night. It was not true then, it is not true now, and he should withdraw it.
§ Mr. Robertson
I will not withdraw my remark, and let us continue with the debate.
Scotland has an international reputation as an environmental beacon. I fear that the only problem is that the perennial parochialism of the SNP and its desire for cheap, quick soundbites create an extreme distortion of the current healthy situation.
I shall begin to respond to the remarks of the hon. Member for Perth and Kinross by trying to put matters into context. There is no denying that the era of heavy industry, which was the foundation of Scotland's wealth for more than 100 years, has left a legacy of environmental problems. But the new, high-tech industries, which are fuelling Scotland's economic resurgence, are not major polluters.
Regulatory standards are tighter as a result of European Union and United Kingdom controls. Industry itself increasingly acknowledges the force of the green imperative and is now moving quite independently to give a higher priority to environmental management.
§ Dr. Godman
What stage have the negotiations with Ameco reached concerning the disposal of the Northwest Hutton platform? Is Ameco to be allowed to dump it at sea to form a reef as it claims, which is absolute nonsense, or will the Government, in accordance with part I of the 841 Petroleum Act 1987, insist that that installation be brought ashore or at least into sheltered waters where it can be dismantled?
§ Mr. Robertson
The hon. Gentleman raises matters of commercial sensitivity between the company and the Department of Trade and Industry, but I shall ensure that my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade is made aware of them. The hon. Gentleman's points are primarily a matter for the DTI.
Industry increasingly acknowledges the force of the green imperative and is now moving quite independently to give a higher priority to environmental management. While we must still tackle problems from the past, we can at least look forward with real satisfaction to a much less polluted future.
The hon. Member for Perth and Kinross made great play of the prospect that the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority may be in a position to secure further contracts to reprocess spent nuclear fuel. It is unfortunate, if not surprising, that she did not praise the highly skilled staff of the facility, without whom such contracts would not be possible. She chooses instead to scaremonger; putting local employment at risk. Is she unaware that there are after all about 1,200 staff directly employed at the Dounreay site, plus 400 or so contractors? A further 250 jobs in the local economy can also be attributed to the plant.
The UKAEA has carried out reprocessing work for decades, and so long as it makes commercial sense for it to continue to do so, and the appropriate regulatory and safety requirements are being met, I see no reason why the Caithness area should be deprived of the benefit that such contracts would bring simply to satisfy the dogma and the narrow-mindedness of the SNP.
Her Majesty's industrial pollution inspectorate will scrutinise fully and in great deal the application for authorisation made by the authority in respect of discharges of radioactive material from Dounreay. That scrutiny includes taking account of comments received from public bodies and local authorities consulted by HMIPI. A considerable amount of environmental monitoring has been and continues to be carried out around Dounreay, and that shows clearly that levels of radioactivity in the environment are well within internationally accepted limits for the public.
I am confident that the new Dounreay site management is dealing with that latter aspect with vigour and determination under the guidance of regulatory bodies. Indeed, the determination of the present management to ensure that all such localised contamination is fully identified and dealt with openly has brought about a great deal of the recent criticism made of operations on the nuclear site.
Similarly, we should not forget that the recent comments about Dounreay's operations made by the Radioactive Waste Management Advisory Committee and the Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment are made by Committees set up by the Government to provide such independent advice and criticism, precisely in order that the operation of the nuclear industry in this country may be to the very highest of standards and so that the public may be reassured of that.
842 As for the transport of spent materials testing reactor fuel to Dounreay, were the United States contracts to come about, there is a history of safe operation and transportation to build on. I am amazed by the short memories of Opposition Members. Dounreay has been receiving such spent fuel elements for more than 35 years since the reprocessing plant opened in the 1950s. Why can the hon. Member for Perth and Kinross not come to this debate and congratulate the work force on their skills, expertise and safety record over decades, rather than seeking to destroy their livelihoods in search of a quick headline in tomorrow's paper?
I am deeply conscious of the concern about the phosphorous containers washed ashore in south-west Scotland and about the safety aspects to which the incident gives rise. The injury that at least one child sustained is most regrettable, and I convey my sympathies to him.
Unfortunate as the incident is, I record my high regard for the way in which the emergency services have handled the incident. Efforts are continuing to try to find the origin of the containers and where in the sea bed they came from. The video of the trench-laying operation will be studied carefully to establish whether it reveals any connection with munitions, if that is what the phosphorous objects turn out to be. Through the Scottish Office's initiative, all the appropriate Government Departments are working together, not only to try to get to the bottom of the incident, but to establish as much as possible about what munitions were dumped.
§ Mr. Foulkes
I endorse what the Minister has said about the emergency services; they worked extremely well. I cannot, however, say the same about Government Departments because over the past two weeks, there seems to have been a concerted attempt to cover up exactly what is going on. We were not told by the Secretary of State for Defence that there was a prohibition order, and British Gas did not tell us. The Ministry is still not answering questions about why the order was imposed and why it was lifted.
On behalf of my hon. Friends and myself, I have written seeking an urgent meeting with the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, because all fingers point in his direction. The Health and Safety Executive is clearly responsible and is under his control. I hope that the Minister will use his good offices and that the Secretary of State for Scotland will use his good offices to get us an urgent meeting with the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to try to solve the mystery of what exactly is going on in and around Beaufort dyke.
§ Mr. Robertson
I know of no cover-up. What I do know is that the hon. Gentleman had what he called a constructive meeting with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence. Following from that meeting, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland is seeking to move matters forward. As I said, through the Scottish Office's own initiative, all the appropriate Government Departments are working together to try to get to the bottom of the incident. I will ensure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland is made aware of the hon. Gentleman's request for a further meeting with my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade.
§ Mr. Foulkes
My hon. Friends and myself said that we had a successful meeting because we thought that we were 843 being told the truth. It emerged afterwards that it was being withheld from us that the Secretary of State for Defence knew that there was a prohibition order and that there was trouble at Beaufort dyke. He did not tell us about that and neither did Cedric Brown.
That was an appalling cover-up of what was going on; that is why a lot of us are now suspicious that a cover-up is still going on and that there are dangers at Beaufort dyke to which the Government are not prepared to admit. That is why we need a meeting urgently.
§ Mr. Robertson
I hear what the hon. Gentleman has said. He is, by his own intervention, admitting that this is a matter that crosses many Government Departments. I have said that, following the hon. Gentleman's meeting with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland is seeking to move things forward. I will ensure that he sees this exchange of views.
§ Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray)
Many of us were present at the meetings and we were an all-party delegation. I confirm everything that has been said by the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes). Why is it only now, some several weeks on from the first indication, that the Scottish Office is talking about co-ordination? Can the Minister tell us who will be working on the group, exactly what its role will be, to whom it will report, how we shall find out the information, how we shall report back to our constituents and what the time scale is?
§ Mr. Robertson
As I have said to the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes), the local Member of Parliament, this is a matter that crosses Government Departments. Following the meetings that he and others, including the hon. Lady, have had, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland is seeking to take matters forward. When my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland winds up, he will address the hon. Lady's question in greater detail. I now want to make some progress.
I now turn to the Government's achievements, as spelled out in our amendment, and our ambitions for Scotland's special and unique environment. So far, the 1990s have been an outstanding decade for our leading-edge policies to protect and to enhance the environment. The decade began with the Environmental Protection Act 1990 which, by any standards, represents a post-war landmark in pollution control legislation.
The Act's centrepiece has been the introduction of integrated pollution control—IPC—for the most potentially polluting industrial processes. This has undoubtedly set a benchmark for the rest of Europe. As a pollution control concept it was world class and the regime that we established in Britain had the immediate effect of persuading the European Commission that it should follow suit. Accordingly, an integrated prevention and pollution control directive—the IPPC—was agreed by the Council of Ministers earlier this year, and will follow very much the same trail as that blazed by the 1990 Act.
IPC finally brought to an end the separate regimes of pollution control that had applied to each of the environmental media—land, air and water. It has therefore heralded an era of greater coherence and more thoughtful analysis of the possible harmful discharges from industrial processes, compared with what was previously a rather fragmented area of operations.
844 Nor was IPC the only feather in the cap of the 1990 Act. For the first time, air emissions from less polluting industrial processes were brought within a tight regime of codified guidance notes in place of the ad hoc controls that had previously applied.
Waste management controls have also been greatly strengthened. Indeed, because of the extent of the reforms embodied, implementation has been phased over two or more years, and the final tranche of the new waste licensing controls did not come into force until May last year. The 1990 Act also strengthened litter laws, with clear output targets for local authorities.
The emphasis in that legislation was on the substance of pollution control, but the focus has shifted in subsequent years to the organisational aspects of securing on the ground the objectives set out in the Act.
The first fruit of that determination was the Natural Heritage (Scotland) Act 1991, which brought together the Nature Conservancy Council for Scotland and the Countryside Commission for Scotland in the shape of a new and powerful body—Scottish Natural Heritage. That body has now settled down to the twin task of reconciling conservation with recreation, and is proving its worth across the entire spectrum of countryside policies. In particular, it has been able to secure a shift in the general climate of opinion towards achieving a much more constructive dialogue between landowners and conservation interests, putting aside the divisive debates of earlier years.
The current Session of Parliament has seen the passage of another major Act with far-reaching provisions. I have no doubt that the effect of the Environment Act 1995 will be felt well into the next century, and I understand that its 394 pages make it the longest piece of legislation passed by Parliament this decade.
The most striking impact for Scotland will probably arise from the creation of a Scottish Environment Protection Agency—SEPA. It is fitting that we should discuss the environment today, because 24 October is the day on which the board of the new agency meets formally for the first time.
The effective protection of the environment requires an integrated, holistic approach. The introduction of IPC—and IPPC in Europe—is an acknowledgement of that fact. SEPA will take that integration a stage further. The agency will concentrate on the key forms of industrial pollution of air, water and land where the benefits of a one-door approach to the prevention and control of pollution will deliver more effective environmental protection.
§ Mr. Michael Connarty (Falkirk, East)
I am grateful to the Minister for allowing me to intervene; my question will allow him to catch his breath, because he is speaking at such a speed. Following the correspondence that I have had with the Scottish Office, does what the Minister now says mean that the operation to deal with the mercury from the former Nobel works in Redding, Falkirk, which is washing into the Forth and Clyde canal, where people still fish, will be funded by the agency? Or will the people of my constituency still have to pay through their taxes to the local council for cleaning up Government pollution?
§ Mr. Robertson
If the hon. Gentleman had waited a little more patiently, I would have reached the funding of the body.
845 From 1 April next year, SEPA will bring together the work of Her Majesty's industrial pollution inspectorate, the various river purification authorities and the district and islands councils in respect of waste regulation and some air pollution control. It will be a formidable organisation with about 600 staff and an annual budget of more than £22 million. Its functions will encompass the control of radioactive substances, discharges to controlled waters, air pollution, flood warnings and waste management, to mention but a few.
The Environment Act also tackles one of the legacies of Scotland's industrial past that I mentioned earlier. It provides a new framework for the remediation of contaminated land sites based on the "suitable for use" approach. That resists the temptation to throw money at every conceivable area of contamination regardless of the benefit that it would bring. Instead, it proposes a selective approach concentrating on remediation programmes on sites posing the greatest environmental risks or the greatest potential for reuse.
§ Mr. Salmond
The Minister has described the environmental agency as being under Scottish Office control. However, does he have any real power in connection with the concerns raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing)? The munitions dump off the south-west of Scotland was put there by the Ministry of Defence. Nuclear waste transportation is under the control of the Department of Transport. Dounreay and its regulatory bodies are under the control of the Department of Trade and Industry, as is the disposal of offshore platforms. The simple question is: does the Scottish Office really have effective power to deal with the concerns that my hon. Friend raised, even if the Minister wanted to tackle them?
§ Mr. Robertson
The hon. Gentleman well knows that the Scottish Office has a powerful voice on every issue that he has just mentioned as an integral part of the Government of the United Kingdom. He should know better.
The Environment Act also has important enabling powers to combat air pollution. Even though we have made great strides in the decades since the Clean Air Acts of the 1950s and 1960s, first to reduce air pollution from domestic fires and then from industry, we now find that a third threat to our air quality has emerged in the form of exhaust fumes from road transport.
The Act addresses this development by enabling air quality management areas to be set up in localities where air quality is particularly poor. As a backcloth to such local initiatives, the Government will publish an air quality strategy to outline the national policies which apply in this important area. The Government will also be discussing with local authorities the range of measures which they might apply to make the AQMAs really effective in improving air quality. We will give them new powers where they are shown to be necessary.
There is not enough time to go through the other provisions of the 1995 Act, but I believe that the Government have demonstrated their commitment to environmental improvement and have proved their ability to come up with appropriate policies to meet the changing challenges of our time.
846 I should like to turn to the wider environmental debate in the country. I detect behind the hon Lady's remarks a kind of moral absolutism, which I believe we must resist if the cause of environmental improvement is not to lose credibility in the minds of the community at large. The clamour from the green corner is all too often for the environment to be returned to its natural condition of pristine purity, regardless of the actual benefits of doing so and regardless of the costs involved.
§ Mr. Robertson
I have already given way to the hon. Lady. I sometimes feel that these calls are part of a flight from reality to a never-never land of simple truths and instant values, and we must all resist that pressure. The first fallacy is that nature is always a benign and beneficial force. As any scientist knows, harmful chemicals abound in the natural environment and naturally occurring radiation almost certainly poses a greater threat to health than radioactivity from nuclear operations.
Undoubtedly we must be careful and considerate in our treatment of the environment, but we must also be alive to the law of diminishing returns. The expenditure to clean up that last trace of pollution in the remaining residue of waste material is likely to be much better spent for the benefit of humanity in many other ways. Yet one hesitates to say anything that obvious in polite society, lest it offends the gospel according to the greens which we are all increasingly expected to acknowledge.
That inevitably brings me to the saga of Brent Spar. Shell undertook a very full assessment of the disposal options, and deep-sea abandonment was the conclusive outcome. The Government's licence to dispose of Brent Spar in this way was granted only after the most careful scientific evaluation by Scotland's foremost marine laboratory in Aberdeen.
The wisdom of those decisions has, of course, been totally vindicated now with the publication of the Det Norske Veritas study. The study demonstrates that Shell had been right all along and that Greenpeace's discreditable manoeuvring has served both to mislead the general public and to leave Brent Spar as a potential threat to the marine environment until it is finally disposed of. It is as regrettable as it is pathetic that the hon. Lady and her party fell in with the Greenpeace line in such an unquestioning and uncritical fashion. I had hoped that she would come to the debate today with her lesson learned—unfortunately, that has not proved to be the case.
That brings me to a matter which I ought perhaps to have mentioned earlier and which certainly looms alongside domestic reforms to improve environmental protection, and indeed overshadows and dwarfs them in many respects—the concept of sustainable development. This was endorsed at the Earth Summit at Rio de Janeiro in June 1992. To my mind, the concept adds the vital ballast of economic realism to counter what can be the sentimentality of those who constantly see the world through green-tinted spectacles. The importance of development in the concept is crucial because as a society and as a planet we need to grow and innovate if we are to progress. Over-caution will lead to stagnation, and that can cast a blight over millions where growth and innovation can give them hope.
The Rio document which set out the many aspirations for sustainable development is called Agenda 21, and it carries the salutary lesson for us all that top-down 847 solutions—so beloved of Opposition parties—are not the answer. The seedcorn of change lies in our local communities, in our schools and at the workplace. Exhortation from on high, whether from Governments or the moral crusaders in the green movement, cannot actually achieve the shifts in life style and patterns of behaviour which sustainable development asks of us. Agenda 21 recognises this by calling for the full participation of all segments of society. This will not be an easy process, nor a swift one.
However, the Government are determined to play their part. The Natural Heritage (Scotland) Act 1991 was the first piece of UK legislation to make specific reference to the concept of sustainability. The Environment Act provides for the Secretary of State to provide guidance on sustainable development to SEPA so that the general aims of Agenda 21 can be reflected in the day-to-day work of that agency. In reality, of course, the very practice of pollution control is at the heart of sustainable development.
We have established a separate Scottish advisory group on sustainable development which has already issued a thoughtful report on transport and the environment. We have commissioned a survey of Scottish attitudes to sustainable development, which was published last year. We have supported the Association of Scottish Community Councils to give local Agenda 21 a higher profile. On the environment, as on so much more, the Government are leading the way. Our record is second to none. I invite the House to reject the scaremongering and political posturing of the SNP. I commend the amendment to the House.
§ Mr. John McAllion (Dundee, East)
I do not know about green-tinted spectacles, but no Opposition Member will be green with envy of the quality of the speech that we have just heard from the Minister.
I rise in my place as a Scottish-born and Scottish-based member of the Scottish Labour party to speak from the Scottish Labour party's Front Bench. The hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) seemed to believe that those qualities were something of a disadvantage, but I am proud of them. I am also proud of the role that my party is playing in securing a Scottish parliament, which will be created after Labour's victory at the next general election. We shall make debates such as this in this House unnecessary. In future, such matters will be debated in Scotland, where they should be debated, by elected Members of a Scottish parliament.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Perth and Kinross (Ms Cunningham) on introducing this important debate. Labour Members agree that there is genuine concern across Scotland about what the motion describes as theGovernment's failure to provide proper stewardship of Scotland's environment.We disagree with the SNP that concern about the Government's poor record on environmental issues is a matter simply for the Scottish electorate. That concern is shared by the vast majority of people who inhabit this small offshore island.
Indeed, the concern is shared beyond the shores of this island in the wider world. The Government's repeated refusal to condemn the French nuclear tests in the south Pacific have made them moral outcasts among civilised opinion in the world—and deservedly so.
848 Today's debate is about Scotland and what the motion describes as the triple threat posed by reprocessing at Dounreay, leaking munitions from Beaufort dyke dump and decommissioning of oil rigs in the North sea. I shall deal with each issue in turn and in the order in which the hon. Member for Perth and Kinross did so.
The motion refers to 1,000 phosphorous devices that have been washed up on the south-west coast of Scotland. They are sometimes referred to as flares, but experts now believe them to be incendiary bombs. The Royal Navy's description of the devices is chilling. Any hon. Member who has not read it would be well advised to do so. It refers to the devices exuding a distinctive pungent smell, their being seen smoking on the shores of Scotland and their ability spontaneously to combust when they are dry. The Clyde coastguard has gone further and said that the devices have the potential to kill. So all hon. Members should be worried about the extent of the munitions being washed up on our beaches.
Youngsters are already picking up the devices—one did so and his clothes started to smoke. He sustained injuries to his arms and legs that required him to be taken to hospital. The devices are very dangerous indeed. The Government's slow reaction to the danger presented to the Scottish people by such devices is amazing.
If the Government do not care about today's children—they cannot vote in the coming general election and save the Government's necks—or about tomorrow's environment, perhaps they should at least be worried about the threat that the devices pose to Scotland's economy. A threat arises from the impact of publicity about the devices on the tourist trade in Scotland.
§ Mr. Phil Gallie (Ayr)
I go along with all that the hon. Gentleman has said about the hazards associated with the phosphorous sticks, but what evidence does he have to substantiate his comment that the Government have not taken a keen interest ever since the first sticks were washed ashore? I have evidence that the Scottish Minister with responsibility for the environment was aware and involved right from that time.
§ Mr. McAllion
If the hon. Gentleman waits, he will hear what evidence I have to substantiate my claim. For the moment, I am talking about the impact that the bad publicity is having on potential tourism to our coasts, which are famous for their marine environment and which attract visitors.
I am grateful for a briefing that was provided to Scottish Members by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. It revealed that millions of pounds were pumped into coastal local economies by visitors. A Countryside Commission for Scotland survey of users of the south-west coast path revealed that in the past year almost £16 million was spent in the local economy by people attracted to the area by the environmental qualities of the south-west of Scotland.
Whether one looks at the problem on safety, environmental or economic grounds, one thing is clear: the Government should make it a priority to preserve the quality of our coastal and marine environment. Yet what did we find when the story first broke and the issue became a crisis in Scotland? One of the headlines in the Scottish press at the time simply read:Offices pass buck as munitions wash up on Scottish coastline.849 The Ministry of Defence said that the matter was not its responsibility but that of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. MAFF said that the matter was not its responsibility but that of the Ministry of Defence and the Scottish Office. No less than a spokesperson for the dynamic new Secretary of State for Scotland was quoted as saying that the Secretary of State did not feel it appropriate to comment on the devices. They all washed their hands of any responsibility for what was happening on the south-west coast of Scotland. They were all utterly clueless about what they could do about it.
We hear from my hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) that the Department of Trade and Industry hid from its responsibility in the matter.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. George Kynoch)
Would the hon. Gentleman have my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland comment on something before he was fully aware of exactly what he was talking about? This is a complex issue. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is aware of that and that significant effort has been made by many people to determine where the items have come from and to ascertain how to stop them.
§ Mr. McAllion
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for trying to come to the assistance of the Minister who is leading for the Government in the debate. The spokesperson for the Secretary of State for Scotland said that it was not appropriate for him to comment, not that he did not want to comment because he had not checked out the matter. The spokesperson said that it was nothing to do with the Secretary of State for Scotland. That is why the Secretary of State will rightly be condemned by people.
Were it not for the successful campaigning by my hon. Friends the Members for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley and for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson), who demanded Government action, an immediate investigation into the source of the munitions and the extent and nature of the munitions held at the Beaufort dyke dump and a halt to all undersea operations in the area, I suspect that Ministers would still be dithering and doing nothing. Only after my hon. Friends' intervention did the Ministry of Defence agree at last to meet them, and only then did the Secretary of State for Scotland decide to intervene in the affair and try to rescue something from it.
It was not just here in Westminster that the Labour party forced the Government into action. A Labour Member of the European Parliament, Alex Smith, took emergency action in the European Parliament and succeeded in persuading the European Commission to investigate the munitions dump at Beaufort dyke and the claims that radioactive waste was dumped secretly in the area.
That is the story of what happened at Beaufort dyke—Labour action to protect the public and the environment, but Government inaction and failure to defend the public interest until they were forced into action by Opposition spokesmen.
§ Mr. Bill Walker
I understand the hon. Gentleman's concern, because everyone who has taken an interest in the matter is concerned. He must acknowledge, however, 850 that Beaufort dyke has been used extensively for the dumping of wartime munitions under Governments of different colours. Accountability, therefore, lies with the people who decided to dump.
§ Mr. McAllion
Accountability for action today lies with this Government and the Minister sitting on the Treasury Bench. Clearly, they have failed to take action, for which they will be condemned not merely by the Opposition but by people who are interested in the subject throughout Scotland.
The second part of the motion refers to Scotland's nuclear industry. I must begin with a confession. I am not in the habit of reading Scottish National party election manifestos—a failure that I think I share with the vast majority of the Scottish people. Indeed, if we are honest, it is probably a failure that I share with the majority of members of the SNP, as you would realise, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if you had ever taken part in a debate with them.
In preparation for this debate, however, I took the trouble to look up the SNP manifesto for the last election to find out what it said about the Scottish nuclear industry. Page 10 makes it very clear that the SNP would pledge itself to creatingA Scotland without the nuclear menace.That phrase is obviously similar to one used last weekend by Mr. Kenny McAskill, a senior member of the SNP, who said that only the SNP could deliver a nuclear-free Scotland.
A nuclear-free Scotland and a Scotland without nuclear menace are good slogans, with a certain ring to them. They may even be attractive to certain people, but they are entirely bogus, as I hope to show. They provide the background, however, against which the references to Dounreay in the motion should be judged. It is important for the House to understand that the references stem from the wider SNP attitude to the nuclear industry and nuclear power in Scotland.
The facts about Scotland's nuclear industry must be revealed before we can judge the references to Dounreay. For example, Scottish Nuclear has signed contracts with British Nuclear Fuels this year for the handling of Scotland's nuclear waste, which will cover the period between now and 2068 and are worth about £4,000 million in total. Of course, we do not have the details of the contracts because BNFL and Scottish Nuclear keep them well hidden, but we can be fairly certain that severe penalty clauses will be included if anyone should decide to tear up the contracts and break the agreements entered into by the two parties.
Under the contracts, Scotland's nuclear waste is to be transported not to Dounreay but to Sellafield in England, where some of it will be reprocessed, but most will be stored, either in wet storage or long-term surface storage. The SNP objects to the possibility of Dounreay being used as a dumping site for nuclear waste from other countries.
We heard from the hon. Members for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) and for Perth and Kinross that they are equally concerned about England's nuclear future and would object to Sellafield being used as a nuclear dustbin for Scotland's waste. We must assume, therefore, that, if they were ever in a position to do anything about it, they would tear up the contracts and be obliged to compensate BNFL for its loss in full—an enormous cost to the Scottish taxpayer—and that they would agree to the repatriation of Scotland's nuclear waste to Scotland, 851 where it would be stored in sites throughout the country. A Scotland littered with nuclear sites of that type could hardly be described as nuclear-free, but no one has ever accused the SNP of being honest.
The SNP plan goes further, however, as it proposes to close down all Scotland's nuclear industry—not merely Hunterston A, which is being decommissioned by Scottish Nuclear, but Hunterston B, Torness, Chapelcross and Dounreay, which will all need to be decommissioned at huge cost to the Scottish taxpayer and will require huge amounts of radioactive material to be stored and disposed of.
§ Mr. Salmond
On the subject of honesty, will the hon. Gentleman give the House the precise date on which he came to believe that the Trident nuclear system should be supported?
§ Mr. McAllion
That shows the hon. Gentleman's desperation. Rather than answering questions on civil nuclear power, he mentions defence, which is not part of this debate. He will have to suffer in silence a wee while longer because I intend to continue exposing the bogus nature of the SNP's policy on the civil nuclear industry.
The hon. Member for Perth and Kinross said that there would be no difficulties in closing down Scotland's nuclear industry and switching to non-nuclear power systems. Perhaps I might refer her to the problems associated with Hunterston A and Chapelcross, which both have Magnox reactors. The hon. Lady quoted, with great approval, the words of the Radioactive Waste Management Advisory Committee, but it pointed out that spent Magnox fuel is potentially unstable and, on safety grounds, should be reprocessed before being disposed of.
Yet the hon. Lady and the SNP are promising to ban reprocessing at Dounreay and have made it clear that they will not have anything to do with reprocessing at Sellafield, which will make it impossible to deal safely with the spent fuel rods from existing Magnox reactors in Scotland. It seems strange for a party that talks about creating a safe Scotland to take decisions that make it impossible for us to dispose safely of Magnox fuel rods from reactors in Scotland.
At its most recent conference in Perth, the SNP decided that Scotland's nuclear industry would be retained only until it could be decommissioned safely. I am not entirely certain what that means and at what point all the nuclear stations would be decommissioned. We know that Hunterston A is already well down the road. The reactors have been defuelled, the ancillary reactor plant has been dismantled, the fuel storage ponds have been cleaned up and all that remains is to remove the reactor core, once radiation levels decrease significantly and it is safe to do so. British Nuclear Fuels estimates that that might be in about 100 years' time, so the SNP has a wide time span in which to decide when it will decommission Scotland's nuclear plant. Perhaps it should invent a new slogan, "Scotland nuclear-free by 2093", but that suggestion might not appeal to some SNP members.
It is incumbent on SNP Members to let the House and the people of Scotland know exactly when they will decommission and write off Scotland's nuclear stations. We must recognise one thing, however: that it is simply no longer credible for us to deal with complex nuclear issues on the basis of simplistic sloganising. The 4,500 workers in the Scottish nuclear industry and the many thousands more in the spin-off industries deserve a little 852 more respect and consideration from that party. Indeed, the SNP did not touch on the most immediate threat to the Scottish nuclear industry—privatisation, which will definitely threaten safety standards in the industry. It is not merely the official Opposition who are saying so. Even the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie) is about to say so.
§ Mr. Gallie
Has the hon. Gentleman not read recent reports from Scottish Power, stating that its safety performance has increased beyond all recognition from the days when it was in the public sector? On that basis, will he take back his words about the privatisation of the nuclear industry?
§ Mr. McAllion
Has the hon. Gentleman not read the comments of Mr. Richard Killick, who is saying what I said? He may not know who he is. Mr. Killick admits that he is not a political animal because he admits to voting Tory more than anything else, but he served for 25 years in the Royal Navy and held all the top safety posts on nuclear submarines. On retiring, he joined Scottish Nuclear and, in 1992, was appointed safety and quality director, so I think that we can take it that he knows something about the nuclear industry and about safety standards within it. Yet, following the merger of Scottish Nuclear and Nuclear Electric into British Energy, he was invited to leave the company. Within a week, he was obliged to clear his desk and to pass on his safety responsibilities to a fellow director from Scottish Nuclear.
Mr. Killick said that the speed with which he was asked to pass on his safety responsibilities alarmed him and was symptomatic of "the fundamental flaw" in the privatisation of the nuclear industry. He claimed:There will be increasing pressures on people and safety as output and profit become ever more important".That will not happen immediately—not in the first two or three years following privatisation—but in the longer term. As Mr. Killick puts it so chillingly, the Governmentare building in latent instability".Given the threat posed by a nuclear industry that is inherently unstable, the charge against the Government could not be more damning or serious. For the sake of a privatisation receipt, which they hope will allow them to introduce tax cuts and increase their electability at the next general election, they are prepared to put at risk the safety of the entire nuclear industry and, indeed, of the people of Scotland, whose interests they claim to be looking after.
Finally, there is the dumping of North sea oil rigs. The Scottish National party has never been able to allow a bandwagon to pass without trying to jump on it. It has done so again by trying to hijack Brent Spar for its own political ends. There has been a deluge of press releases from the hon. Members for Banff and Buchan, for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) and for Perth and Kinross opposing deep-sea dumping of any sort in the North sea. We hear that the Government and oil companies cannot be allowed to dump rigs in the North sea. We are told that Scotland gets all the dangers and few of the rewards. Today, the SNP has again highlighted the benefits that the total removal of rigs from the North sea and recycling them on land would bring through the jobs that the process would create.
The hon. Member for Perth and Kinross went so far as to condemn the Government for adopting a case-by-case approach. That is all very well, but it is a different line 853 from that taken by the Energy Select Committee in its 1991 report, "Decommissioning of Oil and Gas Fields in the North Sea".
It is nothing strange for the SNP to be at odds with the Energy Select Committee; it is strange that a member of that Select Committee was the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan, who as part of the Committee, agreed to commend the Government for their case-by-case approach to the North sea. He also agreed that, on balance, environmental interests favoured the partial abandonment of at least some rigs, that environmental issues could not be used as an argument against deep-sea dumping of rigs and called on the Government to examine the claim that total removal was more dangerous than partial removal because of the dangers that it posed to the divers who would carry out the process. He even agreed that the Government would have to consider the possibility of using abandoned platforms as artificial reefs to encourage fish stocks. Finally, he agreed that the Government should preserve the options of toppling and deep-water dumping while permitted to do so by International Maritime Organisation guidelines.
I have no complaint with the hon. Gentleman agreeing to all that, because I was a member of the same Committee and agreed to it myself, but when the SNP starts to deal with such matters, it should do so responsibly, seriously and with due consideration of the scientific and environmental facts and not treat the debate as if it was something to read about in a tabloid such as The Sun. The issue deserves better than that.
Reference was made to the gulf of Mexico, where 945 rigs were moved on shore for recycling. The hon. Member for Perth and Kinross said, however, that 100 platforms in the gulf of Mexico, belonging to 36 companies, have already been dumped at sea as part of the rigs-to-reefs programme, which has been running for the past 10 years. It is a good programme which has many qualities so far lacking in what has been suggested by the Government. For example, all pollutants and hydrocarbons must be removed before a platform can be considered for disposal. Half the cost savings that arise from not having to dump rigs on land must be handed over to state Governments for long-term monitoring and research into the effects of dumping on marine life.
The programme is supported by local fishermen and environmentalists in America, and even Greenpeace in America does not oppose it. It is at least worth considering.
§ Mr. Salmond
The hon. Gentleman has been busy reading the Scottish National party manifesto; it is a pity that he did not read the motion on the Order Paper. Does he not agree that the key issue is that the oil companies and the Government, because of taxation laws, have a vested interest in the cheapest form of disposal, which is often offshore disposal? Can he not bring himself to agree that we need an independent authority with no financial vested interests properly to supervise disposal?
§ Mr. McAllion
I have no problem agreeing with that, but I cannot agree with the hon. Gentleman giving only one side of the argument and trying to disguise from the House the positions that he took some years ago. With complete inconsistency, he is about-facing on those positions and not owning up to it.
854 I appeal to the hon. Gentleman to deal with such important matters seriously and not use them as part of the usual knockabout stuff of party politics. We are talking about future generations. The document that Labour commissioned on environment policy states:We cannot go on living as if there were no tomorrow.I would advise every political party to take that phrase to heart, because the tomorrow that we are discussing does not belong to the generation sitting here at the moment but to the generations that will come after us. We are not debating our future and environment but those of generations to come. They deserve a debate worthy of them, and they have not heard that from the SNP today.
§ 5.3 pm
§ Sir Hector Monro (Dumfries)
I wish to bring some realism to the debate instead of the rhetoric that we have heard so far.
We are, of course, concerned about what has happened in the Irish sea and the firth of Clyde. That needs to be—and is being—investigated. Until we get the results of the investigation, it is pointless to raise alarm and despondency before we find out what the true picture is.
We have to be practical. If there are problems in the Beaufort dyke hundreds of fathoms down, we have to find out whether the munitions are inert and whether there is any cause for concern. If there is, we must consider what on earth could be done about it, bearing in mind that nothing has happened for about 40 years. I suspect too, that the incendiaries and the possible flares in the firth of Clyde are from a different source altogether. It just happens that they have come together in public concern.
We should say to the Government that, yes, we want to know the results of investigation as soon as possible, but it is no use shouting from the rooftops until the experts have found what the position is. The sooner that that can be done, the better.
It is quite wrong of the Scottish National party to keep thumping away about toppling the Brent Spar in the North sea. We have never intended that any oil wells should be toppled in the North sea because it is far shallower than the Atlantic, where the Brent Spar might have been toppled. That is a different issue altogether.
Without in any way underestimating the Beaufort dyke question, I wish to deal with some more important long-term issues. We can say straight away that the Scottish National party is dead against nuclear power. Its candidates and members have been dead against it ever since the power stations appeared in Scotland after the war.
I live alongside Chapelcross; I brought up a family alongside it. I have no fears at all about the safety of living near a nuclear power station. The standards of the work force, the nuclear installations inspectorate and the Health and Safety Executive are extremely high. There is never any concern about safety in the area. Chapelcross provides 500 jobs. Think of the input that that makes to the local economy through the 500 families.
I cannot understand the concern of the hon. Member for Perth and Kinross (Ms Cunningham), who is not in her place—I appreciate that she cannot be there all the time—about transport. Nuclear flasks have been transported between Sellafield and Chapelcross for 855 40 years. I cannot understand the worry about transporting nuclear equipment under the closest security and scrutiny. It is absolutely safe.
The thought that these flasks are going to catch fire on the road in central Scotland is unjustified. Again, the SNP and, indeed, others are raising alarms about an issue that is a non-runner. Perhaps hon. Members saw the television programme that showed a train crashing at high speed into a nuclear flask. The nuclear flask came off best. It is a safe form of transportation. Nobody could want it to be safer more than the nuclear industry.
It is wrong to say tat we cannot effectively generate electricity from nuclear power or carry out reprocessing at Dounreay or elsewhere; our country has taken safety as its No. 1 priority. I believe that not only the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority but British Nuclear Fuels, which runs Chapelcross, and Scottish Nuclear, which runs its own stations, will keep their high standards as their top priority.
I am concerned about the long-term future of Chapelcross. I want it to continue. I am glad that, subject to safety checks, its future looks guaranteed for at least another 10 years. That is not on account of any support that we have had nationally from the Labour party, the SNP or the Liberal Democrats. I know that local candidates sometimes put a smudge on it, but, by and large, listening to the party conferences, I believe that there is no doubt that the other parties would support the future development of nuclear power.
I should like to be positive in this debate. The motion on the Order Paper must be one of the longest sentences ever composed. It contains the phrase:Government's failure to provide proper stewardship of Scotland's environment.The Scottish National party must be completely out of touch with what is actually happening in Scotland. A great deal of progress has been made. The Minister made the case for Scottish Natural Heritage; the Government combined the Nature Conservancy Council for Scotland, of which I was a member for nine years, and the Countryside Commission for Scotland into Scottish Natural Heritage—precisely to develop the environment and heritage of Scotland. It has been extremely successful, and we should congratulate Magnus Magnusson on his good work.
We have also enhanced the value of Scotland's sites of special scientific interest. It is rubbish to claim, as some organisations do, that we are destroying SSSIs. Only a tiny percentage—one or two out of 3,000—get damaged from time to time, and that is only inevitable. By and large, the standards set by SNH in promoting and improving the environment, habitats, wildlife and heritage of Scotland are first class. We have also set up the Scottish Environment Protection Agency as an additional safeguard, to be up and running by next April, to deal with river pollution and sewage—an outstandingly serious issue in Scotland about which local authorities have done too little for too long.
§ Mr. Thomas McAvoy (Glasgow, Rutherglen)
Does the right hon. Gentleman recall his meeting with me in Glasgow about chromium toxic waste sites in Rutherglen, when he committed the Government in principle to doing something about those sites and expressed great and genuine concern about them? Does he further agree that 856 that commitment has not been honoured by his successors, who have repeatedly said that they will not provide the resources to make the sites safe?
§ Sir Hector Monro
I cannot say what has happened, but I well remember the hon. Gentleman coming to see me and the wish that I expressed that we could resolve the matter, which involved the regional and district councils and the enterprise company, all of which have a part to play in developing the site and removing the contamination about which he and I were rightly worried. I am sure that when he speaks in the debate he will express the strength of his feelings and try to encourage a more rapid solution.
It is most important to support the Government's policies in respect of agriculture, because, if we are to have a beautiful Scotland, with high standards of husbandry and great scenic beauty, we need profitable agriculture. That requires, in turn, support for our policies from Europe, and support for the farming community. That is essential if we are to raise environmental standards in Scotland. I believe that it is already happening; we are putting money where it matters.
We have developed the environmentally sensitive areas and management agreements, and we have helped farmers to farm more sensitively. We have put additional money into the less-favoured areas, particularly hill farming. All these factors contribute to improving the environment. We have introduced special conservation areas, under the habitats directive. Environmental grants are channelled through the wildlife advisory groups. We have promoted forestry and brought in woodland grants. Now that the forestry review is over, I hope that things will settle down, with the forestry authority and Forestry Enterprise in place, providing greater opportunities for access to the woodlands of Scotland.
We set up the Cairngorm partnership, after extensive consultation. David Laird is the chairman presiding over positive co-operation in the Cairngorm area. I hope that it will help to develop the ski areas of Aviemore, as well as the wilder areas in that part of Scotland.
We were also keen to develop the same sort of partnership for the Loch Lomond area. The investigation has been conducted and the report drawn up. The new councils that will come into existence next April will, I hope, get together on this matter. They have the additional powers that they need, but they must also see it as their duty and responsibility to develop opportunities around Loch Lomond, and not just leave it to the Government to bring in new legislation. They can do the task themselves.
The SNP motion also contains the phrase:without any semblance of public consultation".What on earth was the SNP doing this summer? Did it not play its part in responding to the consultation document preceding the White Paper? Everyone in Scotland has been asked to submit ideas. When the White Paper is issued shortly, I hope to see that the SNP has fed in positive ideas. Its members cannot say that they were not consulted; probably no White Paper has ever been prepared more thoroughly than the one in the pipeline for Scotland. Claiming a lack of public consultation just shows how out of touch the SNP is with Scottish thinking—
§ Sir Hector Monro
The hon. Lady looks very lonely sitting there on the Bench all by herself. 857 The forthcoming White Paper will highlight the development of rural communities, and that means everything in the countryside, including village shops and post offices.
We are therefore guided by good policies and by the principles of sustainable development and shared development, working with local people, who know better how to identify their own needs and find the best way forward. Local planning requires flexibility—if we are to develop farm buildings for alternative uses, for instance. We need imaginative planning, too.
At this point, I again put down a marker, well known in the Scottish Office and to many other people as well: I refer to my outright disagreement with wind farms. We cannot improve Scotland's scenic beauty at the same time as building wind farms. I know that we have a duty to find renewable energy sources, but it is difficult to justify erecting up to 20 wind farm propellers, given the desecration of the countryside that ensues and the small generating capacity of the plant. I hope that the planning authorities will be very strict when it comes to locating wind farms in Scotland.
There are too many other objective to mention today—housing, crime, rural transport and unleaded petrol, on which we have taken a lead. Our environmental policies are prominent in Europe and the world. We intend to conserve our natural assets. We will reverse any decline in wildlife. I do not have the time today to give the Red Deer Commission a pat on the back for its work to contain the deer herd in Scotland. We must maintain the diversity of our rural landscapes and remain determined to prevent environmental damage, especially to our green belt. We must not ease up in our commitment to retain it around our cities.
We must also provide people with opportunities to enjoy the countryside for recreational pursuits, offering them reasonable and responsible access. Everyone must have the right to enjoy Scotland without overstepping the mark, as a few foolish people tend to do. We can thus proceed, with good stewardship and a practical knowledge of Scotland, to make it even more attractive for the future.
§ Mr. Thomas McAvoy (Glasgow, Rutherglen)
I congratulate the Scottish National party on initiating the debate, and the hon. Member for Perth and Kinross (Ms Cunningham) on her speech. I have no hesitation about doing that; as my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) said, we should approach this subject on a non-party basis.
I should like to pursue a point made by the Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Robertson), who mentioned the industrial legacy that has been left in the west of Scotland, particularly in the central belt, as a result of the industrial revolution. The position in my constituency is similar to that in Dumfries. A chemical-producing company, Whites, operated in the Rutherglen area for around 150 years. During that time, the factory dumped its chromium waste not only all over Cambuslang and Rutherglen but over a wide area of south and south-east Glasgow.
858 Folk did not realise at the time the damage that can be done by such waste. I was born and brought up just a couple of hundred yards from that factory and used to play in the streams and the burns adjacent to it, despite the fact that the burn ran all sorts of colours as a result of the chemicals dumped in it. One did not realise the dangers at the time; it was only in later years that one realised the environmental mess that the place was in.
That company was castigated by no less than Keir Hardie around the turn of the century for its working practices and cavalier attitude towards the safety and environmental conditions in which the workers did their trade. My own knowledge of that company is further enhanced by the fact that my grandfather, four uncles, numerous cousins and my own brother worked there. It got to the stage in that factory where workers had chromium holes burnt into their skin through working with the chromium waste, which eventually was dumped all over Cambuslang and Rutherglen.
Eventually, the company moved away from Rutherglen and ended up out of business. I have tried to pursue its legal responsibilities and liabilities but am advised by legal opinion that there is no way in which I can do so. It has left a legacy in my constituency, and in adjacent constituencies, of chromium waste sites, which are now fenced off and barred to the public, with signs on them, saying, "Danger. Keep Out." These are not small, isolated sites; they are sites on which houses are built, and community halls and large secondary schools are built adjacent to them. There is a host of such sites throughout the area.
We came to realise that hexavelant chromium was lying in the sites, but, to its credit, Glasgow district council—with which I am not always in tune—commissioned a survey by Dames and Moore, which cost upwards of £150,000, so that it could get the facts and figures, not hearsay and ad hoc comments.
The survey outlined in specific detail what was wrong with each of the sites, and each category of chromium waste contamination of the sites. That has caused great worry and concern in the area about health. Four or five years ago, it was proven that there was an abnormal rise in the number of leukaemia cases in the Cambuslang area. The health board, at my instigation, carried out an investigation and confirmed that there was an abnormal blip in the number of leukaemia cases, but it could not link it to the chromium waste sites. In similar circumstances, it had found no explanation for the rise in leukaemia cases in different areas in Scotland.
Although I accept that it has not been proven, and I use that phrase advisedly, that cancer can be caused by these chromium waste sites, the fact that they exist and have been categorised by Greater Glasgow health board as causing health risks—that has been proven—heightens apprehension in the area.
Although one or two individuals in organisations have been over the top in scaremongering on this issue, I do not blame any family who is concerned about the health risk for children. I stay only five minutes walk from one of these sites. Families are quite right to be concerned and to pressurise and harass me to try to get something done. I, in turn, am passing the matter on to the Scottish Office. I do not blame folk for being concerned about the health risks. Greater Glasgow health board concedes that these sites are health risks if the chromium waste is disturbed; the dust can be breathed in, which can cause health problems. Problems can be caused if the chromium is 859 touched. If young children play on the sites and then put their hands in their mouth, swallowing the chromium can also cause them health risks.
I have pursued this environmental disaster with the Glasgow development agency and Scottish Enterprise, to which I had been referred by Scottish Office Ministers. The local enterprise councils made the point that they had no funding to take care of the sites. I then went to the paymasters—the Scottish Office Ministers—who said that there was an allocation for Scottish Enterprise and the Glasgow development agency to take care of the sites, at least to make a start. But then I came up against a policy that said that remedial work should be carried out on such sites only if there was an economic end use. It is quite wrong that people's health should be put at risk purely and simply because some bureaucrat in the Scottish Office says that, because there is no economic end use to remedial work sites, no work should be carried out.
I would like to record without hesitation the valuable support and encouragement that were given to me by the right hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) when he was a Scottish Office Minister, and the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart), who was extremely helpful in trying to process grants.
Perhaps the Under-Secretary revealed a change of policy on the Scottish Environment Protection Agency when he said that it would have the ability and powers to tackle these contaminated waste sites. I hope that I can get some clarification from Ministers that the criteria of economic end use will no longer be applied to any work to remedy sites that have been contaminated in this way.
It was quite right that I paid tribute to the right hon. Member for Dumfries and to the hon. Member for Eastwood, but my meeting in Dover house, Whitehall with the then Secretary of State for Scotland, the right hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Lang), was like bashing my head against a brick wall. That is the only description that I can apply to it. With me was Mr. Brian Kelly, Glasgow district council's director of environmental health. He was a totally neutral public servant. He was so exasperated that he asked the then Secretary of State whether someone would have to die or be proven to be seriously ill before he would act and give us some resources to try to get something done about the sites.
There are, unfortunately, swathes of land in the west of Scotland that are contaminated, but my constituency and surrounding areas are the only areas of Scotland that are contaminated by chromium waste. No precedent would be set by the Scottish Office in ensuring that resources were given for tackling this drastic problem in my area.
Recently, Scottish Enterprise allocated around £150,000 to Glasgow district council for experimental work in each of the sites to find the best solution for each site. That is certainly useful, but there was no commitment—I fully understand that—from Scottish Enterprise to make a start and to allocate the millions of pounds that will be required to make all the sites safe. I am a realist and am not looking for £20 million immediately, but I think that it is right that the Scottish Office, in conjunction with the unitary authority of South Lanarkshire and with Europe should combine different pots of money to tackle the problem. I know that not one pot of money is available to tackle it, but if there is good will and co-operation, the Government should co-operate and contribute other pots of money to tackle it.
860 There is hope that some of the sites will be tackled fairly soon because of the planned extension of the M74, which will run from Fullerton to the Kingston bridge. I emphasise that that is an extension, not a new motorway, and it is crazy that one small section should not be completed. I make no apology for supporting the M74 extension. It is right to do so.
There are potential benefits in that the motorway route runs through or adjacent to a number of chromium-contaminated sites. Those sites will be tackled as part of the motorway extension. I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Dumfries, who initially suggested that, although the motorway extension might not be planned to go ahead for another couple of years, the associated works which will remedy the sites should be brought forward and the money spent now. That would considerably reduce the number of contaminated sites and reduce the amount of money required. That is a reasonable point of view, and I hope to obtain the co-operation of the Scottish Office on that issue.
I shall await a reply from the Minister and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency on whether the requirement of an economic end use before contaminated sites are treated has now been removed and whether the sites to which I have referred, which have "only" environmental and health risk factors to be taken into account, can be included.
I make no party political point, but the Under-Secretary said that the Government were leading the way in treating Scotland's environment properly. I extend an open invitation to all Scottish Office Ministers to come to my constituency to see the sites and the scale of the problem there and to say whether they would like to have such areas in their constituencies, fenced off as a health risk to the public. I pay tribute to the Secretary of State, who has already come to my constituency at short notice. I invite Ministers then to look me and my constituents in the face and say that there is no way in which they can help. I look forward to receiving assistance.
§ Mr. Phil Gallie (Ayr)
First, I apologise for missing the opening speech. I was involved in a meeting with a Minister from the Department of Transport on an issue of great environmental and economic importance to my constituents—the opening of a new air route between Prestwick and Stansted in the not-too-distant future.
That route will have great environmental benefits, easing pressures on the roads, around other airports and particularly on Heathrow, which is undoubtedly overcrowded and where passengers have problems getting to the city centre.
I was surprised at the omission of roads from this environmental debate, particularly since at the end of yesterday's Scottish Grand Committee the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) had a debate on the Fochabers bypass, an environmental issue worthy of discussion. I understand that some progress was announced on the provision of bypasses yesterday.
The provision of roads throughout Scotland, particularly since 1979, has done much to remove the congestion and pollution resulting from the use of the motor car on roads that cannot cope with them. The progress on roads is one aspect of environmental improvement for which the Government can take credit.
861 I make no apology for referring to local road issues. I draw attention to the stushie about the M77 between Malletsheugh at the top of the A77 and the M8 in Glasgow. A great environmental row broke out over that road, which was destined to improve the environment for many people in Glasgow and certainly for my constituents in Ayrshire and those to the south of Glasgow who want to travel into the city or to the north.
We listened to the so-called environmentalists. For a period, there was trouble and strife, but now all that has gone quiet and I am pleased to say that the M77 is being built to what I hope will be time.
But another threat comes from the so-called environmentalists, and that is a block on the upgrading of the top end of the A77, where motorway standards are desired by the Government, by all in local government in Strathclyde and certainly by all Members of Parliament in Ayrshire.
Here again, we have objections from the mindless environmentalists—people who do not really look at the issues, but simply make a lot of noise. Again, they put in jeopardy the safety of my constituents and the constituents of others. I should like to think that Ministers could ignore their siren cry, but I understand that a public inquiry on the upgrading of that road to motorway standard will almost certainly be required in order to quell their arguments. Every so-called environmentalist who has objected to that road should have on their conscience any deaths or accidents that occur on that stretch in the immediate future. Great shame should be felt by such individuals.
Talking of shame, I come to some of the points that have already been made, in particular with regard to Brent Spar and the shame that should be felt by Greenpeace. It put up scare stories completely in line with those that we hear so often from Opposition spokesmen. We have heard inconsistencies and the distortion of facts—all the rubbish that comes from Opposition spokesmen on occasions which tends towards scaremongering rather than analysing the facts.
Shell considered the position, as did the Government over the years, and it came up with an acceptable proposal for dumping the Brent Spar. Yet that was stopped at the last minute by inaccurate and prejudiced comments.
The problem now is that Brent Spar is stuck in Norway and something has to be done with it. The safest solution was that previously proposed. That seems to be the view of experts across the board. But now other factors must be taken into account. Other risks are associated with the moving of the rig in the coming autumn or winter. If it ends up dumped in the North sea, it will be because of those who listen to Greenpeace and, perhaps, those in the SNP who give them such support.
While we are talking about dumping at sea, it is worth noting a matter of concern to all in the Clyde estuary—phosphorus sticks. The hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) referred to most of the dangers caused by those sticks, which I accept and endorse. However, I take exception to his comment that the Government seem not to be responding. Why does he believe that those particular sticks come from the Beaufort dyke? I shall give him the opportunity to reply to that. I understand that no one can identify their source, or establish whether they 862 were used by the Ministry of Defence. It is not known whether their source is private—or even whether they were dumped over the side of a ship by some foreign merchant years ago. To say that they definitely came from Beaufort dyke is to make an unwarranted assumption.
§ Mr. McAllion
Will the hon. Gentleman reassure the House that he is certain that the sticks do not come from the Beaufort dyke arms dump? If he had listened to my speech, he would know that I called for a Government investigation of the source of the munitions.
§ Mr. Gallie
The hon. Gentleman is rather late in calling for such an investigation. The Government have been examining the position for three or four weeks. I give credit to the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) for raising the issue—and to the hon. Members for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes), for Cunninghame, South (Mr. Donohoe) and for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie). I even give credit to the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing), who, along with others, accompanied me to meet representatives of British Gas.
We have all taken an interest in the matter; we are all concerned. But to suggest that the Scottish Office, the MOD and the Department of Trade and Industry have not registered the anxieties that have been expressed is a travesty of justice and a distortion of the truth.
It did surprise me that, at the time when we met representatives of British Gas, there had been no troughing along the pipeline that British Gas was running. While I was not prepared to point the finger at British Gas and identify it as one of the sources of the problem that had arisen in the short term, I am sure that my hon. Friends the Ministers will take account of that point and will stringently examine possible steps to end the threat to the entire Clyde estuary.
I am surprised that, in a debate on the environment, no one has mentioned the touchy subject of floods. That is particularly surprising in view of last year's events in Paisley. Recent correspondence from people in the area stresses that responsibility lies with local authorities: it is up to them to identify the remedies. They can now refer to the Scottish Environment Protection Agency for expert advice, and SEPA is obliged to provide that advice. I am sure that, if reasonable requests are made for capital allocations, the Government will use their limited resources to try to deal with this important issue.
Needless to say, the nationalists referred to nuclear matters. I do not understand why hon. Members who have every opportunity to examine the facts and consider the issues relating to environmental protection cannot be a bit friendlier to the nuclear industry. Nearly every aspect of the nuclear industry—for instance, air pollution and safety—make it to the top of the poll; it is certainly an environmentally friendly industry. As for alternative forms of generation—[HON. MEMBERS: "What about Chernobyl?") It is good that we have a capable nuclear industry that can deal safely with such matters, and can offer advice to those who operate plants such as Chernobyl to ensure that such accidents never happen again.
If we, like the nationalists, had buried our heads in the sand and refused to examine nuclear issues, we would not have been able to offer the rest of the world the expertise that can create the safe environment that these islands require. With nuclear power and other forms of 863 environmental pollution, these islands do not stand alone: we depend on the co-operation of other nations and industries to improve the environment.
Fears are expressed about safety in the nuclear industry. Whether it is in the private or the public sector, the responsibilities of the nuclear inspectorate do not change; nor do the safety factors. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister will correct me, but I am not aware of any Government plans to privatise the inspectorate. It will remain a Government body, charged with looking after nuclear safety. The hon. Member for Dundee, East confused the House by suggesting that safety would be a problem.
In his speech, the hon. Gentleman questioned the standing of others with respect to truthfulness. I noted the question put to him by the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) about Trident. It would have been interesting and honest if he had told us precisely when he was converted to the Trident programme—a conversion that strikes me as being in line with many of the recent conversions of his leaders, and many of the about-turns that he himself has made.
Let me now deal with another form of beach contamination. I am concerned about sea water standards, and about the lack of effort exerted by Strathclyde regional council to keep beaches clean in my constituency and to enforce sewage control in the Clyde estuary. Its handling of the issue has been disgraceful for some years. Thank heavens, at long last we are to have a water and sewerage authority that will stand aside from political doctrine and intrigue and provide decent facilities for my constituents. I warmly welcome the interest already shown by the new West of Scotland board in future provision and sewage treatment.
Let us look back at the Government's handling of environmental issues in recent years. The condition of our rivers is better than it has been for centuries; fish are reaching the upper levels of rivers where they have not been for many years. Air standards have also improved, and—as my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) pointed out—the Government's environmental legislation has undoubtedly improved the environmental well-being of the countryside.
The term "the environment" does not refer only to what happens in the countryside, or in towns and villages; it refers to what happens in our homes. Another of the Government's major achievements concerns energy provision. Energy prices have fallen, particularly following the privatisation programmes. That is important to elderly people who need warm, comfortable homes. I commend the Government on policies that allow elderly people to use various facilities, and to ensure that their homes are draught-proofed and warm during the colder months.
The hon. Member for Dundee, East registered another conversion when he spoke of the need for people today to consider the requirements of those who will inhabit our land tomorrow. Given Labour's past policy in government, in local authorities and in opposition, especially their economic policy—their "spend today, pay tomorrow" attitude—that is a conversion indeed.
§ Mrs. Ray Michie (Argyll and Bute)
I too would like to congratulate the hon. Member for Perth and Kinross (Ms Cunningham) and her party on bringing the debate to the House today. I notice that the Order Paper says: 864The Opposition Day is at the disposal of the Leader of the Liberal Democrat Party",so I hope that she appreciates that the leader of that party is such a nice person.
§ Mrs. Michie
The only one—well, the only one for a federal party.
I was concerned about the rather dismissive way in which the two Front-Bench spokesmen talked about Dounreay. It made me feel that they did not realise what widespread anxiety exists. I understand that is possible—neither of them lives in the highlands region—but there is a great deal of concern and I would like to articulate it.
We have already heard about the unexplained discovery of radioactive particles on the foreshore at Dounreay, about the explosion in 1977 in an intermediate level waste disposal shaft, and about the proposals for reprocessing work to be undertaken at Dounreay to a far greater extent than has happened in the past. People in the highlands are asking: why should Dounreay and Scotland be the recipient of highly enriched fuel rods which other countries refuse to accept?
§ Mr. McAllion
If the hon. Lady thinks that the people of the highlands have such a strong view on that respect, will she explain why they continue to support her hon. Friend the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan), who takes a very different line from the one that she is putting forward?
§ Mrs. Michie
I will come to the reason why those people and indeed many of us support the work of Dounreay, but—
§ Mrs. Michie
No, not on the one hand or the other hand. My hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) is seriously worried about what is going on at Dounreay. All these problems raise questions about radiological hazards and there is further anxiety about the transport of nuclear materials to and from Dounreay, despite what people say. Those concerns have not been adequately dealt with by the Government, by the regulators or by the site operators.
From time to time, public anxieties about specific activities have been voiced. There was strong opposition to the location at Dounreay of a waste depository to be managed by Nirex, and we successfully saw that off. I and my party believe that nuclear waste should go nowhere. It should not be deposited underground, but stored on site above ground, where it can be monitored until the time comes—surely some time—when it can be neutralised.
The position today, however, is even more serious up north. There is now a more widespread questioning of the adequacy of the regime to protect the public and the environment from unacceptable levels of contamination and hazard. In particular—we have heard about it already—the report of the Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment and the Radioactive Waste Management Advisory Committee on the particles in the vicinity of Dounreay, which was published in May this year, expressed concern that relevant information had not been communicated to COMARE by Her Majesty's industrial pollution inspectorate.
865 Dounreay operates under a licence from the nuclear installations inspectorate. Both the NII and Euratom frequently have inspectors on site, as has the industrial pollution inspectorate, supposedly applying internationally agreed safety standards. We must therefore ask why deficiencies were not picked up by those regulators before the COMARE report and properly dealt with. If the public cannot trust the mainstream regulators both to do a proper policing job and to communicate their findings, it is little wonder that widespread anxieties are aroused.
There has been a failure in communication and a loss of confidence about what is going on there and I ask the Government and relevant bodies to deal with that. They should not just dismiss it, but perhaps take it from me that there might just be a little problem.
We all appreciate of course that Dounreay employs many people and plays an important part in the economy of Caithness, but the Government should heed the concern of the people of the highlands, of the highlands and islands councils and of Highlands and Islands Enterprise, all of which are working to promote and project the highlands and islands as a clean, clear, pollution-free and beautiful region.
I would like to think that the Government could be considering Dounreay, which is already 40 years old, as a valuable resource for future research into matters such as alternative sources of energy. I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) has left the Chamber, because one of the things that they could be considering is how to develop tiny wind farms, which would not offend him when he looked out on the beautiful scenery.
I should like to give one other demonstration of the extent of the concern. The other day, I was faxed from the Isle of Mull a message drawing my attention to the fact thata ship containing flasks of plutonium nitrate being taken from Dounreay to Sellafield travelled through the Minches on the night of Sunday the eighth of October in estimated weather conditions of gale force six to seven.The small vessel—the … Shearwater—is believed to have sheltered from force nine winds in Loch Eriboll"—which is in Sutherland—the night before, then proceeded down the Sound of Mull where she was sighted at 0800 off Tobermory … She then proceeded over the Beaufort Dyke at a time when the Adrossan Ferry was cancelled due to the atrocious weather.My constituents are trying to draw my attention to the fact that perhaps it was dangerous to set off from Dounreay to Sellafield with those rods in such bad weather.
I do not have much time to say other than a brief word about the offshore disposal of the Brent Spar and other North sea installations. In itself, the Brent Spar platform would have represented only a minor addition to the vast quantities of toxic sludge added to the waters every day, but a clear message was sent to the giant multinationals that have thrived for so long off the liquid gold buried beneath the seas, and to other Governments and our Government: abandoning waste at sea is simply no longer acceptable.
We are not talking about scare stories. The hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) spoke about our children and their future. He said that we were 866 stewards of their future. There comes a time when the accumulated abuse of our common heritage comes home to roost and society then says no and decides to tolerate such abuse no longer.
When I see platforms such as Brent Spar or the rigs that are sitting in Invergordon waiting to be disposed of, I wish that we could introduce a second economy into the highlands. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye (Mr. Kennedy) asked the companies at Ardersier and Nigg and Highlands and Islands Enterprise to examine the possibility of recycling and disposing of the rigs.
That brings me to Beaufort dyke and the serious events on the west coast of Scotland, in particular round the shores of Argyll and Bute during the past few weeks. Hundreds of incendiary devices have been washed up on our beaches, posing a real danger to public and polluting the environment.
The hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie) protests that the Government have done a lot, but to date there has been a lack of urgency in dealing with the matter and many questions remain unanswered. We went to meet the Secretary of State for Defence and he was very helpful in so far as he could be. He said that he would investigate that part of the problem which came under the remit of his Department. I wrote to the Secretary of State for Scotland and asked him to make a statement in the House of Commons to let me, my constituents and others know exactly what is going on.
We still do not know where these devices come from. I am not sure whether they come from Beaufort dyke or further north, whether they were disturbed by the 40-tonne plough that was pulled along by three vessels trenching for cables or whether they came from the munitions dump at Beaufort dyke. We do not know whether the dump is being investigated and monitored—if not, why not? They started coming up some weeks ago and I do not know who is responsible for searching for the devices and clearing the beaches. Is it the police? Is it the coastguard? Who is it?
§ Mr. Kynoch
Will the hon. Lady join other hon. Members in recognising that the emergency services have been incredibly good and efficient at clearing up the beaches in such unfortunate circumstances? It is the least that she can do for the services in her area.
§ Mrs. Michie
I am happy to do that. I do not understand why the Minister mentioned it in such a disparaging way. I shall tell the Minister who in my constituency is dealing with the matter. It is mainly the police and they are doing it very well. If the Minister had been patient, he would have heard me commend what they did the other day with regard to the little boy who was injured. The coastguards have also been involved, but the Minister will be aware that there are not many police around the Mull of Kintyre. There are not many coastguards and there are miles of shoreline, including that round the coast of the islands of Bute, Islay and Jura.
It is my impression that the buck is being passed from one Department to another. The Scottish Office says that it is the responsibility of the Ministry of Defence and the MOD says that it is the responsibility of the Scottish Office, so we seem to be going round in circles.
In response to my warning that something serious could and indeed might happen, the Secretary of State for Defence told me—and he was right, of course—that his 867 first priority was the safety of the public. Something did happen. My small constituent, four-year-old Gordon Baillie, picked up what he thought was a stick and he was about to throw it away when it ignited. Three fingers of his right hand and the bottom part of his arm were burnt. His clothes were on fire, but his family managed to remove them quickly before even more damage was done.
The following day, the Ministry of Defence arrived at his relatives' house and, without his parents' knowledge or permission, removed the clothes and the container in which they had been placed and burned them on the beach, destroying the evidence. I do not know how significant that evidence was. I know only that the police, whom I commend for their work—I hope that the Minister is listening—took photographs of what happened.
Gordon's mother is obviously very upset and worried. Nobody has really told her what is happening. She asks whether the Government are prepared to take responsibility for the devices, but nobody will tell her what is going on and when they will be cleared up.
Finally, having made that particular point about the incendiary devices, I would like to say again that we must get them removed. It is really important. I hope that the Government will understand that many of the issues raised in the debate cannot be ignored because the people of Scotland will not tolerate it.
§ 6.6 pm
§ Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)
I welcome the opportunity to speak in what I think is an important debate, because I live in Scotland, which is an environmentally friendly place. The quality of life in Scotland is so good that we try not to tell other people about it in case too many of them come and join us. We have a splendid quality of life.
The hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) was probably as interested as I was to learn that, along with the view of the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) that it will probably be 100 years before Scotland can achieve independence, it will probably be 100 years before Scotland can be a nuclear-free country.
We have heard a great deal of humbug and nonsense about transportation of nuclear materials on Scottish roads. I have to declare an interest, as a large part of it goes through my constituency. Nuclear materials have been trundling around on our roads and railways very safely for 40-odd years.
Opposition Members are trying to scare the people of Scotland by overstating the problem that could or might arise. When I asked how many people had died as a result of nuclear accidents on our roads and railways, the answer was none. However, under normal driving conditions, someone dies on the A9 every weekend. It is much more dangerous for reasons other than the movement of nuclear materials, because of the splendid controls. It ought not to surprise us.
In 1993, the hon. Member for Perth and Kinross (Ms Cunningham) was advocating civil disobedience against any laws that might be made in Scotland. How can we take seriously any debate introduced by someone who is trying to occupy the moral high ground when we know that she has publicly advocated civil disobedience? That is the type of nonsense that we must expose in the debate.
868 The hon. Member for Dundee, East skilfully revealed the double standards of the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond), who supports one thing in Committee and then adopts an entirely different position simply because of his political opportunism.
The plain truth is that the nuclear industry in Scotland employs many people, and is a good and safe employer. I accept that people should question how things are done in that industry from time to time. Such questioning is part of the monitoring process carried out by the House.
I have no criticism of the way in which the hon. Member for Dundee, East addressed the issue. He is right to say that we are talking about our grandchildren's inheritance. We should address the issue logically, sensibly and objectively. Frankly, I do not care when the hon. Member for Dundee, East changed his mind, if he did, on Trident.
We are talking not about that but about the motion on the Order Paper and the humbug that we have had to take from members of the Scottish National party. We must expose it for what it is. The SNP is not interested in environmental issues; rather, it is interested in trying to scare the Scottish people by presenting them with untruths and scare stories. It manufactures facts to suit its own ends.
The hon. Member for Perth and Kinross has criticised the Government for their ad hoc approach, but let us consider how they have dealt with the incendiary devices that have unfortunately been washed up on beaches in south-west Scotland. No one knows where those devices have come from, but we all know that the problem must be addressed.
For the hon. Lady to suggest that no inquiry has been launched, and no one has done anything about the devices, is absolute nonsense. The truth is that Labour and Conservative Members have seen Ministers to express their concern. The hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie) has quite properly seen Ministers to express her concern about the injury to one of her constituents' children. That is what Parliament is for, and we have done our job effectively. We must not, however, make definitive comments that cannot be substantiated. None of us knows for certain where those devices have come from.
We are aware that certain recent activities in the sea may be related to the appearance of the devices. That is not an unreasonable suggestion, so it is right and proper to consider all the relevant facts. After all, dumping in Beaufort dyke has been going on since the end of the second world war, so it has been agreed by successive Governments. There is no question about the Government, whoever they were at the time of the dumping, being held accountable for the munitions dumped in Beaufort dyke. Should those devices belong to the Ministry of Defence, or the Air Ministry, or whatever it was known as at the time of the dumping, it should be possible to work out exactly when they were dumped.
Because of my background, I happen to have some slight knowledge of the type of incendiary devices carried on aircraft. I do not know whether such devices have been washed up on beaches recently, but once the identity of those devices has been pinpointed, it should be possible to find out how they ended up in the water. Until that happens, it is all down to guesswork. I commend the Government for what they have already done to solve the problem, and I believe that they will find the answer and 869 deal with those devices effectively. I expect them to do just that, not least because that that is what we are required to do by numerous statutes.
I commend the Government for the various statutes they have introduced—for example, the Environmental Protection Act 1990—and for those that have led to the introduction of Scottish Natural Heritage, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, as well as the agency to monitor air pollution. They represent a deliberate attempt to address current problems, some of which were created by our forbearers.
We must accept that certain problems must be addressed, but we must not overstate them. Scotland is a superb place in which to live. We do not live under the threat of a nuclear holocaust, as has been suggested. We do not live with the threat of former drilling rigs, research rigs or loading rigs being dumped in the North sea—that has never been proposed. To suggest that they might be dumped somewhere near Scotland was equally inaccurate.
It is right that we should debate the environment and find answers to the problems that face it. I agree with the hon. Member for Dundee, East—I hope that that does not make him feel uncomfortable—who made a telling speech, which deserves credit. His speech showed the way in which we should tackle the matter. He is right to say that we must find the right answers to certain problems, because we have a duty and a responsibility to do so. That does not mean we cannot display the normal party divisions and differences, but there is common ground between us on environmental matters. We should all recognise that.
What I am attacking is the humbug displayed today by members of the SNP. Their motion does nothing for Scotland's interests or the confidence of the people who work in the nuclear and oil industries. It does nothing to allay the concerns expressed about devices found on west coast beaches. Their motion is all about fear. The SNP may argue that it will give people a nuclear-free Scotland, but the hon. Member for Dundee, East extracted the truth—live long enough, say 100 years, and one may see that happen.
The truth is that the SNP is interested in scoring narrow political points. It has no interest in benefiting the Scottish people or the environment of Scotland.
§ Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)
I compliment the hon. Member for Perth and Kinross (Ms Cunningham) on her introduction to the debate.
We were all concerned to hear about the injuries suffered by the young constituent of the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie). As for the passage of certain vessels through the Minches, I have long argued that vessels ploughing the sea bed, along with heavy tankers, should stand to the west of the Western Isles, especially in heavy weather. I said that to the former Secretary of State for Transport, who is now masquerading as the chairman of the Conservative party. He promised me across the Floor of the House that he would examine my request, and that he would seriously consider instructing such vessels to stand clear of the Minches and the Western Isles.
870 The right hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) criticised the Opposition parties for presenting a distorted picture of the Government's environmental record—for example, in relation to sites of special scientific interest. For his part, he failed to remind the House of the appalling carelessness of Scottish Office Ministers and officials—I believe he was a Minister at the time—when they designated a development site on a SSSI within the Inverclyde enterprise zone.
I refer to the Parklea site. I warned at the time that such designation would fall foul of the European Union's flora and fauna directive. That site will never be developed because of that. They were equally careless in selecting as another site for potential development the Gourock rope works, a listed industrial building. Six years later, that site is still derelict, but those Ministers and their complacent officials have walked away from their mistakes.
I have a couple of questions for the Minister about the Beaufort dyke scandal. The right hon. Member for Dumfries said that we should not cause alarm and despondency among the people who live on the firth of Clyde and surrounding areas. He is absolutely right. Yet those events have caused deep concern among our constituents, so it is right and proper that we hold the Government to account over the rigour of their investigation and the efficacy of the prescriptions that they offer to solve that dangerous problem.
My hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) and others have made serious allegations about the presence of highly dangerous substances in shallow waters outwith the Beaufort dyke. That is a very serious complaint, especially to our fishermen who fish those shallow waters with their demersal gear.
I know that the Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Kynoch), is not responsible for fisheries, but all Ministers bear a responsibility, not only to our youngsters and others who walk along our beaches, but to our fishermen who fish those shallow waters. My hon. Friend, the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie) and I are honorary presidents—
§ Dr. Godman
I am sorry, and the hon. Lady. I do not know how I missed her. My sincere apologies to the delightful hon. Lady. We are honorary presidents of the Clyde Fishermen's Association and our members fish close to that area outwith the Beaufort dyke. I was pleased to hear the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Robertson), say that he would study the video and other evidence exhaustively.
I want to ask the hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside a couple of questions. If such substances are scattered about in shallow water—wherever there is shallow water around our coastline, there are traditional fishing grounds: no one can dispute that—would he give serious consideration to their recovery? Could not the squadron of mine-laying vessels which are to be based not so far from my constituency be used in such an operation? Or would it be possible to adapt the gear of a big freezer trawler so that it could trawl those seas and make the seas clean for our fishermen?
I remind the Under-Secretary—I do not need to remind the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South, because he is a fisheries expert—that a big-sterned trawler can shoot its 871 gear and drag its trawl upwards of a mile astern. It seems that the Under-Secretary should consider such matters in thinking about cleaning the seas. Our fishermen deserve that consideration. A big freezer trawler could be used.
Incidentally, I am not looking for a job for my brother, who just happens to be the mate of such a vessel. If a freezer trawler cannot be adapted, minesweeping vessels could be used so that, outwith the Beaufort dyke, our fishermen can safely go about their lawful business.
While talking about clean seas, I wish to say a word about the disposal of redundant offshore installations and pipeline networks. I maintain—here I disagree fundamentally with the hon. Member for Ayr—that those seas where and whenever possible should be swept clean in the interests of our fishermen who have played the game by their agreements with the oil and gas companies.
Part I of the Petroleum Act 1987—
§ Dr. Godman
In one second.
Part I of the Petroleum Act allows the Government—not these Under-Secretaries, unfortunately—to reject the disposal proposals made by an offshore oil or gas company in relation to a redundant platform or redundant pipeline networks.
I listened closely to my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) when he talked about the recommendations and the findings of the Select Committee on Energy. That report makes a lot of sense about some installations. I do not believe that we will be able to shift the big concrete structures—we might have to put Christmas tree fairy lights on them as navigational aids—but many other structures can and should be removed.
§ Dr. Godman
Sorry, I have run out of time.
I remind the House that, during the passage of the Petroleum Bill in 1986, the late and much-lamented Alick Buchanan-Smith claimed that the disposal of redundant rigs could lead to much employment in the highlands and islands and elsewhere. I would like to think that the law applied. His successor, Mr. Peter Morrison, when Minister at the Department of Energy, said in a speech in Aberdeen that perhaps upwards of 3,000 jobs could be created in dealing with the safe and efficient disposal of those redundant platforms and pipeline networks.
§ Mr. Gallie
The hon. Gentleman referred to the disposal of rigs at sea and the threat to fishermen. The Government have made it quite clear that the Brent Spar was a one-off situation. It was to be buried in deep water where there was no fishing interest, and there were no protests from the fishermen—they accepted the situation. Does the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that?
§ Dr. Godman
I am not so sure that all the fishermen to whom I spoke accepted the sense of dumping that structure west of the Hebrides. There was no question of it being dumped in the North sea—we all know that—but, nevertheless, reservations were voiced about it. What will happen to this North-west Hutton platform and other installations which need to be disposed of other then by toppling them? I am on the side of the fishermen. The sea 872 should be swept clean, because the fishermen have played the game by the multinationals. The multinationals should play the game by our fishermen.
§ Mr. Brian Wilson (Cunninghame, North)
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) for leaving me a few minutes in which to speak mainly on a constituency point concerning phosphorous flares. I shall first make a couple of references to the debate.
I am grateful for the opportunity of this debate. Unfortunately, it seems to have been narrowly focused. There are many environmental issues that are much more pressing than those the debate addresses. I speak in support of the Scottish nuclear industry—nuclear with a small "n". The hysteria about Dounreay does no credit and pays no respect to an industry that has given good-quality employment to thousands of people in the highlands over the past 40 years or so.
There is not the remotest evidence of anyone being killed or injured by the activities at Dounreay. When we have a first-class Scottish industry, why it should be in anyone's interest to run it down I honestly do not know. The heads on the Conservative Front Bench will stop nodding at this point.
The threat to this nuclear industry of ours, which has a fantastically safe reputation, comes not from Dounreay but from privatisation. That is what will run down the skills. [Interruption.] I assure the House that I would be worried if Conservative Members spent the next five minutes nodding, but I am not worried about the fact that they are now disagreeing. The core of expertise in the nuclear industry is going to be run down as the new company—if it ever happens, and it is a very big "if'— moves away from nuclear to other sources of generation.
The second brief point that I want to make is about land. Again, it disappoints me and I find it extraordinary that a debate on the Scottish environment does not encompass the issue of land, particularly in the week after the Secretary of State for Scotland set one of his frequent hares running in an initiative that seems to contain no substance at all.
By raising the issue of the Scottish Office crofting estates, the Secretary of State will have caused a great deal of apprehension on those estates, for this is the third time that the possibility of the estates being sold off has been raised since 1979. It would be helpful if, in one sentence, the Under-Secretary gave an assurance that there is to be no compulsion attached to the proposed sale of the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland crofting estates. I should also like the Minister to tell us whether it was just wind when the Secretary of State for Scotland talked about the proposals applying to private landlords. Everyone in the House knows—whether they admit it or not is a different matter—and certainly all Opposition Members know that the problem with crofting estates in Scotland is not with the publicly owned estates but with the privately owned ones. To talk about an initiative or a reform that does not touch the privately owned estates is a fraud, as the Minister will perhaps acknowledge as well.
I now turn to the phosphorus flares which have cropped up regularly in my constituency and which have caused a great deal of apprehension. I agree entirely here with the 873 hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker). I do not know where the flares are coming from and my hon. Friends the Members for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) and for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) do not claim to know, either. What we do know is that there is a problem. It is common sense that, if there is a problem, one does not risk exacerbating it.
I also acknowledge that it is very likely that the stuff that is being thrown up and a great deal of what is in the Clyde and the northern approaches comes from a period either during or after the second world war. I should have thought that everyone in the House would thank God for the fact that we were at that time a United Kingdom. To turn around now and to complain that the Clyde was used as a dumping ground on some sort of ethnic basis seems to be carrying nationalism to its logical absurdity.
We know that as well as phosphorus flares there is a lot of other material in the Clyde and in the northern approaches. The point that we made to Cedric Brown when my hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley, the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing)—I know that the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie) would have been there—
§ Mr. Wilson
I apologise. We always take the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie) along.
Nobody is interested in which Government Department is passing which buck to whom. However, if British Gas goes ahead with the operation in the full knowledge that there is potential for further disruption and for far more serious substances and materials to come ashore, responsibility will lie exclusively with British Gas and with nobody else. That point was made forcefully. What happened at the weekend near Campbeltown only reinforces that point.
We must have better information about what is in the Clyde and in the northern approaches. In the meantime, we must have a freeze on activities that common sense suggests are likely to disturb the area and to cause substances to be cast up. Nobody is making accusations, but we are all entitled to make reasonable assumptions about what is possible and what is not possible. My plea is that there should be no further activity to disrupt these materials until we have a far more comprehensive survey of what is there and what the potential is for disturbance of the materials and, therefore—heaven forbid—for much more serious injuries or worse to our constituents.
§ Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray)
In concluding this debate on behalf of the Scottish National party, I thank all right hon. and hon. Members who have participated in it. It is clear from the attendance this afternoon and from the vehemence of some of the arguments that there is a great need to debate environmental issues pertaining to Scotland. The motion was, of course, constricted in certain ways, so I hope that there will be other opportunities to open up some of the points that have been touched on in this debate. None the less, the debate has been extremely worth while.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and Kinross (Ms Cunningham) on the way in which she moved the motion. All of us recognise that she has been 874 in the House for only a short time—indeed, it was only her second speech in the House. She put forward with great authority a strong, coherent and well-researched case and she dealt effectively with interventions from both sides of the House. She deserves our congratulations.
I want to comment on one or two points raised by hon. Members during the debate. The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Robertson), went at one stage into what can only be described if not as a purple passage, certainly as a green passage during which it was quite difficult even for him to keep his face straight. He referred to the Scottish National party trying to claim moral absolutism. The SNP is not trying to do that in this debate. We are raising issues that are of genuine concern to people the length and breadth of our country and beyond. We are also talking about the economic realities of what faces the people of Scotland if environmental issues are not addressed effectively and thoroughly.
The Minister should, perhaps, look at the report from the conference in 1990 which resulted from a meeting held in Inverness, sponsored by Highland regional council, at which members of various of the political parties and local representatives participated. They talked then about the problems of looking at Dounreay as being the Nirex centre for the disposal of nuclear waste. We had people there from the National Farmers Union, from the Scottish shellfish growers, from Highland Fine Cheeses, from distilleries and from all sorts of businesses the length and breadth of the area. They all made strongly the case that we needed to protect our environment because our industries and our employment were dependent upon the perception of a clean environment. Those arguments hold true today and I suggest that the Minister acquires a copy of the report. We are talking not about moral absolutism, but about economic realities.
The hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) said that the SNP did not seem to be prepared to accept responsibility for the disposal of nuclear waste in Scotland. We have always argued that the disposal of nuclear waste by any organisation in our country should be on site and above ground where careful monitoring should take place. If the hon. Gentleman read the Official Report more carefully, he would see that I said exactly that on 25 April 1991 in a debate on the Natural Heritage (Scotland) Bill. I said:The burying of nuclear waste is the greatest danger we face, because no one can predict seismic or underwater movements. The waste will need to be monitored for centuries, and that is why it must be stored on site and above ground."—[Official Report, 25 April 1991; Vol. 189, c. 1234.]It would not be a victory for us if nuclear waste were to be buried at Sellafield. The point was made clearly. We accept the responsibility for what is happening in our country, but we tell the Minister that because contracts have been made in the past that may involve the transportation of nuclear waste and so on, we should ensure that any contracts made in future do not create any further difficulties.
It also seemed that the Minister was backing off from the issues that have been raised in the context of the Brent Spar. He said that he thought that what my hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) had said in the Select Committee on Energy was wrong. We spoke then about a case-by-case attitude, but when such an attitude is discussed, the discussions should obviously 875 not include people who have vested interests with financial advantages. That is the case in the disposal of many of the platforms. Both the companies and the Government have financial interests at stake.
I now turn to my main remarks. I shall concentrate essentially on the Beaufort dyke because hon. Members here this afternoon have stressed the issue and it is concentrating the minds of the people of Scotland. The hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie) had the unfortunate experience of the youngster in her constituency this weekend and various other incidents have caused a great deal of concern.
At our meeting with the Ministry of Defence, it was made clear that there was no identification of the phosphorus objects that were being washed up along our coastline. I find that rather hard to believe, because, with the scientific back-up that is available to any Government Department, there should surely be some ease of identification. It was, however, made clear to all of us in the all-party delegation who met the Secretary of State for Defence that under any agreements, mainly coming from Oslo and Helsinki, the dumping of unused munitions at sea should be safe and that such dumping was probably the safest method. However, it was also said that such munitions should not be disturbed and should remain as much as 263 fathoms under the sea.
When we had the all-party meeting, the pipeline that is being laid across the sea bed was still on the surface of the sea bed and we were told that it would remain so for some time because of the concerns that had been raised. Yet the same group who met less than 24 hours later with British Gas was told that approval had been given by the Ministry of Defence and by the Department of Trade and Industry to commence troughing on the sea bed.
Apparently that permission was given less than one hour after we left the Ministry of Defence building in Whitehall. British Gas received a fax via Vauxhall barracks at Didcot timed at 11.39 am on 18 October, although the letter was dated 17 October, which was the day of our meeting at the Ministry of Defence. The letter giving permission and raising the prohibition order was written an hour after we left.
That was a despicable way in which to treat concerned Members of Parliament. It shows a complete lack of co-ordination and gives contradictory signals to people who are paying attention to the issue. Now we hear that alternative attitudes may be taken, and I shall talk about those in due course.
I have other questions to raise in the context of what is happening at Beaufort dyke and what has been dumped there. Many of us are not clear exactly what was dumped not only in the dyke but in the areas immediately surrounding it.
I have been given information about a farm at Smarden, in Kent, where in January 1963 two acres of ground were sprayed with the pesticide fluoroaceteamid. The cows on the land died in convulsions, because it was highly toxic, and 2,000 tonnes of contaminated soil from the farm were removed and loaded into a boat called the Halcince, which sailed from Rochester in March 1964 with the aim of dumping the contaminated soil at an unidentified Atlantic site.
If Ministers cannot confirm that tonight, will they at least have the courtesy to write to me and to the other members of the all-party group who have been raising the issue of dumping contaminated substances at sea?
876 At our meeting, the Secretary of State for Defence promised that he would place as soon as possible in the Library all records and information held by the Ministry of Defence on the disposal of munitions. Of course, the choice of such records will depend on classification, and they will relate only to conventional munitions and explosives. Who will have access to information about chemicals, and perhaps civilian nuclear waste? I understand that the Atomic Energy Authority may have disposed of civilian nuclear waste, and possibly nerve gas, in the area. All that information must be made available.
In his response to my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and Kinross the Minister said that there would be co-ordination, spearheaded by the Scottish Office, of the investigation into what is happening to the Beaufort dyke. Presumably that would mean co-ordination between the Ministry of Defence, the Department of Trade and Industry and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, as well as the Scottish Office.
Which Department will have the final say? Who will take the final decision? I should have thought that the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry would have a particular interest, because his constituency is affected.
I should also like to know whether close links are being maintained with the local authorities with responsibilities for planning and economic development in the area. It is most important that they be involved. My hon. Friend the Member for Perth and Kinross has already referred to the remarks made by Alastair Geddes of Dumfries and Galloway.
§ Mrs. Ewing
Before I do, I should emphasise that Dumfries and Galloway will be especially interested, because there is the possibility of drilling and exploration for gas off its coast, which could have a huge economic impact, especially in an area of high unemployment.
Since the Minister spoke earlier in the debate, it has come to my attention that information has been released by Lord Lindsay to the Scottish press, making a concession on the issue. Hon. Members taking part in the debate have attempted to get hold of the exact information, and I now understand that the main part of the speech for the Minister who is to reply to the overall debate will say that a fully independent environmental inquiry will be made by the marine laboratory in Aberdeen, to be completed before Christmas.
I find it amazing that, since we arranged for the debate—it was well known what it was about and it appeared clearly on the Order Paper; Ministers knew what it was about—even though I had telephone calls from the Scottish Office this morning, no information has been given to hon. Members on the subject.
§ Mr. Foulkes
I have been trying to get a copy of the announcement all afternoon. It was made by the Earl of Lindsay, and it is improper that it was not made to the House of Commons by the Minister earlier. We do not know exactly what the announcement says, but assuming that there will be an independent marine survey, that is to be welcomed. It is a victory for those of us who have been campaigning on the issue. Does the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) agree that, until that independent survey is completed, all commercial operations in the area 877 must stop? It would be outrageous if British Gas were to continue its operations while the survey was being undertaken.
§ Mrs. Ewing
I agree. It was extremely discourteous of the Government not to advise us of the announcement. Of course we welcome it, if the news is true. We await confirmation from the Minister, and I know that Lord Lindsay has listened to most of our debate. I agree wholeheartedly with the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) that troughing and all other activities in the area should stop until the full results of the inquiry are placed before us.
I trust that the inquiry will cover representations from the local communities, so that they are well aware of what is happening, and from the Members of Parliament who have pursued the matter ruthlessly for some time. The subject was first raised in 1985 by my predecessor, the right hon. Donald Stewart—a greatly respected man in the House—and it is a matter for great concern. Why has it taken the Government so long to concede eventually that a real inquiry is needed? I regard the concession as a victory for those of us who tabled the motion, and those who have worked together in the all-party group to place the issue before the Government.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. George Kynoch)
This has been an interesting debate, which has largely concentrated on three main issues—Dounreay, Brent Spar and the phosphorous flares that have appeared off the south-west of Scotland.
I am afraid that my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) hit the nail firmly on the head when he said that although several Opposition Members had made responsible speeches—I commend them for the fact they have often kept party politics out of things, and there has been rational discussion of the issues—the Scottish National party, typically, has tried to go for the cheap headline rather trying to address the environmental issues in Scotland. Scottish National party Members seem intent on looking at the negative rather than at the positive.
I shall start by dealing with some of the questions asked by Opposition Members. I noticed that the hon. Member for Perth and Kinross (Ms Cunningham) press-released her speech on Monday, obviously fearful that the representatives of the media would not be interested enough to attend the debate. Looking up at the Press Gallery, I conclude that she was right—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I apologise; Opposition Members tell me that the Aberdeen Press and Journal, ever attentive to issues involving Scotland, is here in strength.
§ Mr. Kynoch
No, I shall not give way now. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will claim to be a member of the press, and I trust that, if so, it is firmly declared in the Register of Members' Interests.
Clearly it is for the chief inspector of Her Majesty's industrial pollution inspectorate to decide whether the application from the United Kingdom Atomic Energy 878 Authority for authorisation of radioactive discharges at Dounreay is to be granted. The chief inspector has not yet determined UKAEA's application, but in doing so he will take full account of any comments received in consultations with local authorities and other public bodies yet to be undertaken.
Such consultation will include Government-funded committees, the radioactive waste management advisory committee and the committee on the medical aspects of radioactivity in the environment. The committees have not hesitated in the past to provide constructive criticism where necessary, and I have every confidence that their input will continue to be valuable in the future.
The hon. Lady said that there had been a significant delay in the issuing of discharge authorisations, but I can assure her that consideration of the applications is being carried out with great care by HMIPI. Account has had to be taken of a ruling by Lord Justice Potts about the factors which should be considered in such processes, and HMIPI has obtained further information from the Atomic Energy Authority to ensure that all the relevant factors are considered. Inevitably, this has resulted in some delay. I trust that the hon. Lady wishes to ensure that the case is looked at properly, and I hope that she does not want a conclusion to be reached before the case is judged.
In the motion tabled by her party, the hon. Lady states that she wishes no further discharge authorisations to be given. That would be counter-productive to the interests of Dounreay, but much of what she said was counter-productive to Dounreay. I noted the remarks of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State with responsibility for fisheries in his opening speech about the significant employment prospects for people in the Dounreay area. At present, some 1,200 staff are directly employed at the Dounreay site, while 400 contractors and a further 250 people in the local economy are employed in jobs associated with the site.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) is not in his place, because I am sure that he would have introduced on behalf of his constituents a note of balance to the comments made by his hon. Friend the Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie). I suspect that the hon. Lady's comments would be out of line with what the hon. Gentleman would have to say on behalf of his constituents.
Much of what was said by Opposition Members was put in perspective by the positive speeches from my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro). The latter has been a significant force in the Scottish Office for many years, particularly on the environmental front, and he made a constructive and balanced speech. My right hon. Friend deserves all our commendations, and I expected nothing less than a constructive contribution from him.
Much has been made of the concerns about the transportation of radioactive materials. We must look at the situation with regard to research reactors in Britain and the history of MTR fuel reprocessing here to put the possible US contracts which have been talked about in their proper perspective. MTR fuel reactors exist primarily for research purposes and to produce radio isotopes for medical use. The Atomic Energy Authority has provided a fuel manufacture and reprocessing service to its materials testing reactor customers since the 1950s. 879 Spent fuel from such reactors has therefore travelled northwards to the reprocessing facility at Dounreay for about 35 years.
During that period, some 12,500 spent fuel elements have been reprocessed. Most came from the UK, but some 25 per cent. were reprocessed on behalf of overseas customers. Because of the steady volume of business, the MTR reprocessing plant has been regularly updated to ensure that it fully complies with the latest technical standards. A new programme of work will ensure that it can operate safely for the next 10 years.
The transport of radioactive material, such as spent fuel, is carried out only in containers which meet the most stringent requirements of the International Atomic Energy Authority, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries clearly pointed out. I wish that the Scottish National party—and the hon. Member for Perth and Kinross (Ms Cunningham) in particular—would be more constructive and positive about the successes achieved by the workers at Dounreay, rather than doing its usual job of running Scotland down, selling it short and ensuring that the task of those who are trying to make a constructive contribution to the economy is made all the more difficult.
§ Mr. Salmond
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. During the debate, we have heard that an announcement has been made to the press outside the House which concerns this debate. There are six minutes left in the debate. After the earlier abuse of procedure, are we not at least entitled to hear the Minister's comments on that announcement so that he can be questioned by hon. Members?
§ Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes)
That may be a point of debate, but it is not a point of order for the Chair.
§ Mr. Kynoch
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) has again tried to get a sound bite and a headline by wasting the time of the House. I am trying to answer the points which have been raised by hon. Members on both sides of the House during the debate.
Moving from Dounreay to the subject of the Brent Spar, much nonsense has been—
§ Mr. Kynoch
The hon. Gentleman may wish to ask about the phosphorous and Beaufort dyke. I shall come to that last. With respect to the hon. Gentleman, while there is no definite time limit of 7 pm, I shall be seeking to wind up as close as I can to that time.
Much nonsense has been talked about the content of the Brent Spar and the effect of deep sea disposal on the marine environment. That is indefensible when Shell was put to the trouble and expense of producing a thorough best practical environmental option. Account must also be taken of the fact that the marine laboratory in Aberdeen carried out a detailed scientific investigation to assess the site selection, as well as evaluating any likely impact of deep sea disposal on the surrounding environment. In other words, the facts and the science have been conveniently ignored by those seeking merely to sensationalise the situation with regard to the Brent Spar. 880 I was surprised to find myself in agreement with the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion), who made one of his more rational speeches, when he referred to the fact that the Select Committee advocated that each individual case should be looked at on a case by case basis. I believe that it will be in the best interests of Scotland and of future generations if we get rid of the Brent Spar in the most environmentally friendly and cost-effective way. We should not be forming preconceived opinions, as the SNP is doing, and Opposition Members should think about the matter carefully and ensure that they are making rational arguments.
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Rutherglen (Mr. McAvoy) referred to the chromium waste sites in his constituency. I heard everything he said, and I am enthused by the prospect that the situation may be alleviated by the extension of the M74. I understand that the district council's investigations have found that a significant public health risk is not present at any of the sites. However, I take on board the comments of the hon. Gentleman and of my right hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries, and I shall make sure that my noble Friend the Under-Secretary of State with responsibility for the environment in Scotland hears everything that has been said.
I come now to the situation with regard to phosphorous canisters, and particularly to the comments made by the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute. I echo the comments of my hon. Friend the Minister in his opening speech. There is no doubt that this was a very unfortunate incident involving public safety about which we all share concerns. I should be disappointed if hon. Members from either side of the House sought to belittle the efforts of the voluntary forces and of the Government in trying to get to the bottom of the problem.
I was sad to hear of the incident involving Gordon Baillie, the young constituent of the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute. Obviously, we shall try to prevent similar incidents arising in future, and the emergency services are trying to clean up the beaches to ensure that the risk of such an incident occurring again is minimised. With regard to the incident relating to clothing, that is the first that I have heard of that incident and I was alarmed to hear the hon. Lady's account of it. I will ensure that the Ministry of Defence is made aware of her interpretation of events and that my colleagues there write to the hon. Lady on that point.
We are all trying hard to ensure that the origin of the phosphorous canisters is discovered. I understand that the Ministry of Defence has undertaken to provide local Members of Parliament with as much information as possible about the disposal of munitions in the Beaufort dyke area. Much has been made in the past few minutes about an announcement. It has been blown out of all proportion. My colleagues and I in the Scottish Office have sought to ensure that we play our part in getting to the bottom of the problem. There was to have been a scheduled survey of the Beaufort dyke area next spring. My noble Friend the Under-Secretary of State with responsibility for the environment in Scotland has announced this afternoon that he is bringing the survey forward to commence before Christmas.
§ Mr. Kynoch
The hon. Gentleman has already intervened twice on the subject. I am trying to be fair to 881 the House and finish my speech, so I will not take his intervention. The survey will now take place before Christmas. That will give us a better understanding of this complex issue.
§ Mr. Kynoch
Hon. Members must simply be patient. I hope that the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) wants the exercise to be carried out thoroughly and efficiently to ensure that we get the best possible information.
In general terms, this afternoon's debate—
§ Mr. Wilson
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The Minister must tell us whether the British Gas work will be suspended.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
That is not a point of order for the Chair and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman knows it.
§ Mr. Kynoch
In conclusion, I hope that the House wishes to ensure that issues such as Brent Spar, the dumping of munitions and the problems arising therefrom are viewed objectively rather than emotionally. The nationalists unfortunately put an emotional slant on everything, ignoring the facts and the anxieties of the Scottish people. Most important, there should be respect for the scientific evidence and expertise, of which Scotland has a right to feel proud. By adopting that approach, Scotland's excellent environmental image and reputation will not be unfairly tarnished.
I ask hon. Members to reject the nationalist motion, and I commend the Government amendment to the House.
§ Question put, That the original words stand part of the Question:
§ The House divided: Ayes 26, Noes 159.882
|Division No. 222]||[7.02 pm|
|Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy||Lynne, Ms Liz|
|Beith, RtHon A J||Maddock, Diana|
|Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)||Marek, Dr John|
|Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)||Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)|
|Carlile, Alexander (Montgomery)||Rendel, David|
|Cunningham, Roseanna||Skinner, Dennis|
|Dafis, Cynog||Steel, Rt Hon Sir David|
|Davies, Chris (L'Boro & S'worth)||Taylor, Matthew (Truro)|
|Ewing, Mrs Margaret||Tyler, Paul|
|Foster, Don (Bath)||Wallace, James|
|Harvey, Nick||Wigley, Dafydd|
|Jones, Ieuan Wyn (Ynys Môn)|
|Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Kennedy, Charles (Ross,C&S)||Mr. Elfyn Llwyd and Mr. Alex Salmond.|
|Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey)||Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)|
|Aitken, Rt Hon Jonathan||Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset)|
|Alexander, Richard||Baldry, Tony|
|Amess, David||Bellingham, Henry|
|Ancram, Michael||Booth, Hartley|
|Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)||Boswell, Tim|
|Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv)||Bottomley, Peter (Eltham)|
|Atkins, Rt Hon Robert||Bowis, John|
|Brandreth, Gyles||Lightbown, Sir David|
|Brazier, Julian||Lilley, Rt Hon Peter|
|Bright Sir Graham||Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)|
|Brooke, Rt Hon Peter||MacGregor, Rt Hon John|
|Browning, Mrs Angela||MacKay, Andrew|
|Burns, Simon||McLoughlin, Patrick|
|Burt, Alistair||Maitland, Lady Olga|
|Butler, Peter||Malone, Gerald|
|Carlisle, Sir Kenneth (Lincoln)||Mans, Keith|
|Carrington, Matthew||Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel)|
|Chapman, Sir Sydney||Martin, David (Portsmouth S)|
|Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)||Mawhinney, Rt Hon Dr Brian|
|Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Ru'clif)||Merchant, Piers|
|Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey||Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)|
|Conway, Derek||Monro, Rt Hon Sir Hector|
|Coombs, Simon (Swindon)||Neubert, Sir Michael|
|Cran, James||Nicholls, Patrick|
|Day, Stephen||Nicholson, David (Taunton)|
|Devlin, Tim||Oppenheim, Phillip|
|Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen||Ottaway, Richard|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James||Patnick, Sir Irvine|
|Dover, Den||Pickles, Eric|
|Duncan, Alan||Porter, David (Waveney)|
|Duncan-Smith, Iain||Powell, William (Corby)|
|Dunn, Bob||Rathbone, Tim|
|Elletson, Harold||Redwood, Rt Hon John|
|Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter||Richards, Rod|
|Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield)||Riddick, Graham|
|Evans, Roger (Monmouth)||Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn|
|Fabricant, Michael||Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S)|
|Fenner, Dame Peggy||Robinson, Mark (Somerton)|
|Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)||Sackville, Tom|
|Fishburn, Dudley||Shaw, David (Dover)|
|Fox, Sir Marcus (Shipley)||Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)|
|Freeman, Rt Hon Roger||Sims, Roger|
|French, Douglas||Skeet, Sir Trevor|
|Fry, Sir Peter||Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)|
|Gardiner, Sir George||Speed, Sir Keith|
|Gillan, Cheryl||Spink, Dr Robert|
|Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair||Sproat, Iain|
|Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)||Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)|
|Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N)||Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John|
|Hague, Rt Hon William||Stern, Michael|
|Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)||Streeter, Gary|
|Hampson, Dr Keith||Sweeney, Walter|
|Hanley, Rt Hon Jeremy||Taylor, Rt Hon John D (Strgfd)|
|Hargreaves, Andrew||Taylor, John M (Solihull)|
|Hawksley, Warren||Thomason, Roy|
|Heald, Oliver||Thompson, Sir Donald (C'er V)|
|Hendry, Charles||Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)|
|Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael||Thornton, Sir Malcolm|
|Hicks, Robert||Townend, John (Bridlington)|
|Higgins, Rt Hon Sir Terence||Townsend, Cyril D (Bexl'yh'th)|
|Howard, Rt Hon Michael||Trimble, David|
|Howell, Sir Ralph (N Norfolk)||Twinn, Dr Ian|
|Hughes, Robert G (Harrow W)||Walker, Bill (N Tayside)|
|Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W)||Waller, Gary|
|Hunt, Sr John (Ravensbourne)||Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)|
|Hunter, Andrew||Waterson, Nigel|
|Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas||Wells, Bowen|
|Jenkin, Bernard||Whitney, Ray|
|Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey||Whittingdale, John|
|Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)||Widdecombe, Ann|
|Kellett-Bowrman, Dame Elaine||Wilkinson, John|
|King, Rt Hon Tom||Willetts, David|
|Kirkhope, Timothy||Wilshire, David|
|Knapman, Roger||Winterton, Mrs Arm (Congleton)|
|Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash)||Winterton, Nicholas (Macc'f'ld)|
|Knight, Rt Hon Greg (Derby N)||Wood, Timothy|
|Kynoch, George (Kincardine)|
|Lait, Mrs Jacqui||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Legg, Barry||Dr. Liam Fox and Mr. Michael Bates.|
§ Question accordingly negatived.
§ Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 30 (Questions on amendments) and agreed to.
§ MADAM DEPUTY SPEAKER forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.
That this House 'congratulates Her Majesty's Government on their environmental achievements in Scotland and applauds their continued commitment to the further protection and enhancement of the environment, notably through the creation of the Scottish Environment Protection Agency; supports the Government's view that United Kingdom's Atomic Energy Authority should be allowed to continue to undertake reprocessing of spent fuel, subject to the appropriate regulatory requirements being met, and that sound science and careful cost benefit analysis should continue to guide the Government in their consideration of issues affecting the marine environment, the matters of safety always to the fore.'.