HC Deb 04 December 1991 vol 200 cc145-6W
Mr. Kennedy

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if his Department has assessed the environmental consequences of an oil tanker spillage in the Minch; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. McLoughlin

My Department's marine pollution control unit—MPCU—maintains a national contingency plan for dealing with marine pollution all round the United Kingdom coast. This plan reflects a continuously updated assessment of the economic and environmental consequences of oil spillages and other incidents and is supported by local authority plans, developed with help from the MPCU. The national contingency plan is exercised regularly and in 1990 the chosen area was the Minch.

In Scotland, the MPCU is advised by the Nature Conservancy Council for Scotland on the effects of oil pollution incidents on wildlife and has arrangements to call it in when a spillage occurs which may affect wildlife. It is similarly advised on fisheries by the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Scotland. To help with contingency planning, the MPCU commissioned the production of 77 maps identifying all sensitive wildlife areas—including the Minch and the western side of the Outer Hebrides—on the coast of Great Britain which are vulnerable to oil pollution.

I recently visited the Minch and I am very well aware of the economic and ecological importance of avoiding oil spillages there. The Minch is not heavily used by laden tankers. A deep-water route has been designated on the Atlantic side of the Hebrides and a notice to mariners asks that all laden tankers over 10,000 gross registered tonnes use it unless conditions make it unsafe to do so. The object of this arrangement is to keep large oil cargoes out of the Minch except when the environmental and safety risks of using the outer route are greater.