HL Deb 11 June 1985 vol 464 cc1126-8

2.58 p.m.

Lord Rodney

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government on the basis of what tests, carried out over what period of time, they have concluded that the inclusion of triorgano tin in antifouling paint is a serious risk to the culture of oysters.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Lord Belstead)

My Lords, tests have been carried out in the laboratory and in affected estuaries over the past two-and-a-half years. These show conclusively that both the Pacific and the native oyster suffer harm from exposure to tri-butyl tin from antifouling paints which use this compound as a biocidal agent. There is also ample evidence of harm to many other marine organisms.

Lord Rodney

My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for that Answer. Is he aware that some 10,000 inshore fishing boats and work boats will be affected by this ban? In view of the in-depth tests that are at present being carried out by the Royal Yachting Association and the paint manufacturers, may I ask him to speak to his honourable friend to see whether this ban could be postponed until the results of these tests are finalised?

Lord Belstead

; My Lords, the Government do indeed bear in mind the interests of inshore fishing as well as of yachting. However, I think it is fair to make the point that tests have been undertaken for well over two years and have shown conclusively that TBT paint affects not only oysters but other marine species, including those important to the marine food chain.

In answer to my noble friend's second question, I know that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment will consider the question of timing this matter with care, as indeed he will consider all other responses which have been received in answer to the consultation paper.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, is the Minister aware that in seeking to preserve and protect the marine and aquatic environment from TBT or any one of the 129 substances listed by the EC directive as being particularly dangerous, he will have widespread support not only in this House but outside it as well? May the House be informed of the work being done to reassure paint makers and users that it is possible to satisfy their imperatives without poisoning the ocean and the marine life that lives therein?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, new types of paint have recently become available which rely on a totally different strategy. Instead of releasing a toxic substance they present a slippery surface on which organisms cannot settle.

Baroness Platt of Writtle

My Lords, may I ask my noble friend the Minister whether the Government have considered the idea of instead of placing a harsh, total ban on TBT-based paints as is being suggested at present, of allowing only those paints which he has just mentioned, with a lower rate of leaching of tri-organo tin compound, which I suggested to the Department of the Environment in my letter of 10th May?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I believe that my noble friend Lady Platt is referring to co-polymer paints, which are designed to release TBT at a more steady rate than traditional paints. I understand these are available at the present time. I am told that the difficulty is that such paints do not stop harmful concentrations of TBT building up in nearby waters. This again is a matter which obviously must be examined among the many replies which have been sent in for the consultation paper.

Lord Greenway

My Lords, does the Minister not agree that blanket banning of the use of this antifouling paint by many thousands of yachtsmen on what appears to be insufficient evidence is manifestly unfair, when some of the large tankers at present laid up in our southern ports have on their bottoms the equivalent of about 12,000 times the amount of antifouling paint carried on the bottom of a single yacht?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, the noble Lord makes an interesting point. Our primary concern is with small craft continuously moored in estuaries and harbours. We believe that is where the danger lies. I believe the House would wish to be aware that research has shown that less than one teaspoonful of tin-based paint in 1 million gallons of water is harmful to a wide range of marine organisms.

Lord Harvington

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the order he proposes to make will be subject to a statutory order, which can be prayed against by this House? Will he be kind enough to accept from me that all those who have in mind the interests of the owners of scores of thousands of small working and pleasure boats will fight the proposal with all the might and main that we can?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, may I be clear in my answer to my noble friend? At the moment we are at the stage of a consultation paper sent out by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, which, nonetheless, makes definite proposals which have been the subject of questions and answers for the past few minutes. I repeat to my noble friend the undertaking which I have already given in this exchange: I know that all the views, including that of my noble friend Lord Harvington, will be taken seriously into account in considering the replies to the consultation paper.

The Earl of Radnor

My Lords, may I ask my noble friend to take note of the fact that any further delay through tests of a substance having slow release properties will probably take so long to reach a conclusion that the damage done to the smaller organisms in estuaries will be almost irreparable? Does my noble friend know that the damage to oysters which has been noticed is merely indicative of the death caused to many smaller organisms which are essential to estuarial life?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, there is no question in the Government's mind but that the final point my noble friend made is right, and that oysters are only part of the problem. A large number of other marine species are threatened, including those which are important to the marine food chain.

Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal

My Lords, can my noble friend the Minister tell the House what has been the French experience, what action the French have taken, and whether we believe that their research is relevant to the situation in this country?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, about three years ago the French introduced controls on TBT paint used on boats. My advice is that there has been a marked recovery in oyster production in France.