HC Deb 30 January 1996 vol 270 cc767-8
7. Mr. Welsh

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what recent discussions he has had with his European counterparts on reducing pollution of the sea; and if he will make a statement [10374]

Mr. Clappison

My right hon. Friend led the debate in the fourth North sea conference which has agreed a strategy for preventing pollution in the North sea.

Mr. Welsh

Given that this is the third anniversary of the Braer disaster, which showed how vulnerable to pollution our coastline is, will the Minister take further steps to control tanker traffic? Is he aware that the narrow sea route through the Minches daily carries three tankers through an area whose industries are very dependent on a clean environment, and which contains 100 sites of special scientific interest? An accident is waiting to happen. Will the Minister take steps now to prevent that accident?

Mr. Clappison

That is a serious issue for the North sea coast. The hon. Gentleman will know that, following the Braer disaster, the Donaldson report produced 103 recommendations, many of which dealt with this very subject. The Government have accepted a large number of those recommendations, and my right hon. and hon. Friends at the Department of Transport will soon present proposals for their implementation.

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that particular problems are involved in the surveillance and enforcement of oil tankers' discharges and activities. Great care must be taken to protect our coast.

Mr. Allason

Will my hon. Friend give some support to the campaign mounted in the south-west by Surfers Against Sewage, an organisation which is anxious to improve the quality of sea water? Is he aware that Liberal-controlled Torbay borough council does not appear to be willing to reply to letters from Surfers Against Sewage, having originally campaigned on its behalf and encouraged it? Is that not another classic example of Liberal Democrat cynicism?

Mr. Clappison

I am surprised by what my hon. Friend tells me about the Liberal Democrat-controlled council in Torbay, which would have been expected to take an interest in the subject. My hon. Friend will know that, more generally, there has been a big clean-up of our beaches, as there has been a clean-up of our rivers and other waters. Water quality is now improving in our rivers, as it is at the seaside.

Mr. Llew Smith

Will the Minister be having discussions with his European counterparts with a view to offering their expertise to the Australian Government, who plan to monitor the seas in the area where the French nuclear tests took place and to measure the levels of radioactive pollution?

Mr. Clappison

It is important for us to learn all the lessons that we can from international environmentalists. The hon. Gentleman will be interested in the judgments reached about this country by many such environmentalists, including David Bellamy, who says that our recent record suggests that we are now on the way to becoming the clean man of Europe.

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will join me in welcoming the large reduction in the amounts of contaminated substances going into the North sea, such as lead, mercury and cadmium. That is a significant achievement.

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