HC Deb 22 February 1990 vol 167 cc903-5W
Mr. Kirkwood

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on Her Majesty's Government's definition of inert or harmless as a description of substances permitted to be dumped in the North sea by the 1987 North sea agreement.

Mr. Curry

Her Majesty's Government accept the definition ofinert materials of natural origin

contained in Oslo Commission decision 89/1 of 14 June 1989. This is solid, chemically-unprocessed geological material whose chemical constituents are unlikely to be released in the marine environment".

They include such materials as sand, gravel, stones and rock material originating on land as well as colliery waste; none of which have been contaminated by anthropogenic processes.

No comparable definition has been adopted for "harmless". This is a quality which has to be assessed on a case by case basis in the light of careful scientific assessment.

I can give some examples of characteristics of liquid industrial wastes which the Government consider harmless. They include wastes which are very rapidly neutralised in the sea into substances which are naturally present in the sea, such as salts and water. Organic constituents at trace levels are rapidly biodegraded and so can have no effects on marine life. No trace of wastes can be found by the most sensitive means of analysis within five minutes of dumping. Constituents of the wastes are tested on oyster embryos to ensure that they have no effects on particularly sensitive life forms in the sea.

Mr. Kirkwood

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food under which section of the 1987 North sea agreement is the authorisation being granted by the Government for the dumping of paracetamol in the North sea.

Mr. Curry

The issue of licences for the deposit of substances from the United Kingdom in the sea is subject to the provisions of part II of the Food and Environment Protection Act 1985. In considering whether to grant such licences we take into account paragraphs 21 and 22 of the 1987 North sea conference declaration which permit the dumping of harmless industrial waste until practical land-based alternative means of disposal are available.

Mr. Kirkwood

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what research his Department is undertaking or planning to investigate the increase of detritus and domestic rubbish being entrapped in commercial fishing nets in the North sea.

Mr. Curry

The directorate of fisheries research is planning to monitor the incidence of litter in commercial fishing nets in the course of forthcoming cruises of fisheries research vessels.

Mr. Mans

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he intends that dumping at sea of industrial waste covered by the 1987 North sea declaration will cease.

Mr. Gummer

Ever since the 1987 North sea declaration we have been working hard to identify acceptable land- based means of disposal for the industrial wastes which we have licensed for disposal at sea. I am very glad to be able to announce that we intend that none of these wastes will continue to be dumped at sea after the end of 1992. In two cases, however, it might not be technically feasible to meet this deadline. We will extend the licences for these two last wastes into 1993 only if absolutely necessary on technical grounds and for the shortest possible part of that year.

I am also glad to emphasise that we have already stopped the dumping at sea of more than half the industrial wastes which were licensed in 1987. Only nine wastes covered by the 1987 North sea declaration remain and some of these will cease to be dumped at sea in the course of this year.

The identification and implementation of acceptable land—based disposal alternatives on this times scale requires a high degree of commitment by the companies concerned. However, although the 1987 North sea declaration accepted that wastes such as ours which do not harm the sea could continue to be disposed of at sea as long as no practicable land-based means of disposal was available, the Government have been determined to ensure that these wastes ceased to be dumped at sea as soon as possible. I am extremely pleased that we have now been able to set a firm timetable for ending all these disposals at sea.

Forward to