HL Deb 11 March 1986 vol 472 cc508-10

2.57 p.m.

Lord Tordoff

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 what steps they are taking to ensure that independent monitoring of mercury levels in Liverpool Bay fish is not reduced following the abolition of the Greater Manchester and Merseyside Councils.

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

My Lords, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food monitors mercury levels in fish in Liverpool Bay and will continue to do so.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, while thanking the noble Lord for that Answer, may I ask whether he is aware—no doubt he is, because of a reply that he gave to my noble friend Lady Stedman last week—that independent monitoring is having to cease because of the lack of funding from the metropolitan counties? In view of the fact that the mercury levels in fish in Liverpool Bay are only just within the EEC EQS of 0.3 mg/kg, does the Minister not think that this is a time for increasing monitoring rather than reducing it? Can he further give your Lordships' House an idea of how frequently his Ministry carry out monitoring, and how long it takes for the results to be published?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I do not know that I agree with the noble Lord that the monitoring will have to cease. Exactly the same situation presented itself in Tyne and Wear, and there the district councils have made sure that the sea fisheries committee will continue to operate in a satisfactory way. I very much hope that a way can be found to go forward so far as concerns the Lancashire and western sea fisheries joint committees. Secondly, may I just say that the levels of mercury in fish in Liverpool Bay are below the environmental quality standard laid down by the Community, and have been for many years. The monitoring that we do takes place on about 20 days of every year, and of course Britain's membership of various international conventions requires us to continue this work.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that Select Committee G on the EEC has been taking evidence from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on this very point, and that it has been very impressed by the comprehensiveness and the thoroughness with which the Ministry's inspectors carry out these inspections on all the sites round our coast where sewage dumping takes place, including, of course, Liverpool Bay?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for those comments. The only point I ought to add, and which the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, will be pleased to hear me add, is that we shall keep the situation under review, particularly in the context of this Question, and make such changes as may be necessary.

Baroness Nicol

My Lords, is the Minister able to say how much his Ministry has relied upon the results of the monitoring undertaken by this committee? If the Ministry has found it necessary to use the results, will it not consider increasing the frequency of its own monitoring to try to fill the gap that will inevitably be left? Is the Minister aware that we are not just talking about Liverpool Bay; this particular committee covers the whole of the west coast of Wales.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, we do not rely upon the monitoring work undertaken by this committee.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, my noble friend has been helpful in referring to the Welsh interest in this matter. Will the Minister confirm that he is in touch with his right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Wales and with the county councils of Clwyd and Gwynedd on this subject?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, as I understand it, the problem is not a Clwyd and Gwynedd problem: the problem is whether the successor district councils in the Merseyside and Greater Manchester areas are prepared to come forward and take up membership of this important committee.

Lord John-Mackie

My Lords, arising out of the Minister's reply to my noble friend Lady Nicol, is the Minister saying that there is no co-operation between his Ministry and the local people as regards this monitoring? If there is no such co-operation, why is that so?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, with respect to the noble Lord, I did not quite say that. I was in effect saying that there really is no monitoring of fish quality by this sea fishery committee, and it is for that reason that we do not rely on the monitoring. It does not exist.

Baroness Stedman

My Lords, I accept that the Minister, in a Written Answer to me last week, said that some of the district authorities were not willing to continue financing this scheme. However, it is not just the district authorities from Merseyside and Greater Manchester which are concerned. Has there been any consultation with the county councils of Cheshire, Lancashire and Cumbria, and the three Welsh counties which also take part in this scheme, which is funded up to a twelfth of a penny rate by each of the authorities concerned?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, it is essentially a matter for the councils in the district of the sea fishery committee to decide on whether or not to support the committee. My right honourable friend has a statutory role in considering applications to set up or to modify sea fishery committees. My right honourable friend cannot force district or county councils to give their support.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, I should like to refer to two minor points. The noble Lord mentioned 20 days a year. Are those 20 days in relation to the whole of the coastline of the United Kingdom, or do they relate to the specific area to which the Question refers? Did I hear the Minister say in reply to the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, that no monitoring of mercury levels was carried out by this organisation?—because if that is what he said, I think he is mistaken.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, as regards the noble Lord's first point, let me say that I am talking about Liverpool Bay when I refer to the 20 days. My understanding is that there is no monitoring of fish quality. There is monitoring of samples taken from the bed of the sea, and there is monitoring of water quality. Both of those activities are important activities, but they are not the same as the monitoring of fish quality.

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