HC Deb 07 July 2004 vol 423 c824
3. Mr. Ben Chapman (Wirral, South) (Lab)

What discussions he has had with the First Secretary regarding the necessity of dredging the Dee estuary. [181914]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Don Touhig)

My right hon. Friend and I have regular discussions with Assembly Ministers about issues relating to the application to carry out dredging in the Dee estuary.

Mr. Chapman

While nobody appreciates more than I do the importance of jobs at Airbus—many of my constituents work there—the Dee estuary is one of the most important and highly protected nature conservation sites in the United Kingdom. Can my hon. Friend assure me that when decisions are taken about dredging, the Government will balance the views of the English and Welsh sides of the estuary, take account of the balance of interests of ecology and of commerce, examine alternatives and check the extent to which dredging is actually necessary for the purpose claimed?

Mr. Touhig

All alternatives must be fully and properly assessed before any decision can be taken, and the process must robustly meet the current relevant legislative requirements. I have no doubt that that will happen.

Mr. Martyn Jones (Clwyd, South) (Lab)

Is my hon. Friend aware that most of this precious habitat appeared only in the last 50 years and that it would be utterly insane to jeopardise 6,000 top-quality jobs within Wales for the sake of some marsh land that has appeared only recently?

Mr. Touhig

All those factors will be taken into account as the assessment is made, but I appreciate my hon. Friend's point. British Aerospace employs 6,000 people and it is a crucial player in the economy of northeast Wales—and, indeed, of Wales as a whole. The A380 superjumbo Airbus project will further raise the area's profile and will protect, secure and increase job opportunities in that part of Wales. All those matters must be taken into account before a decision is taken.