HC Deb 14 December 1993 vol 234 cc536-8W
Mr. Llew Smith

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will place in the Library a copy of the quality status report of the North sea, prepared for the signatory states to the convention on the prevention of pollution to the North sea.

Mr. Yeo

A pre-print version of the quality status report was considered at the North sea conference meeting which I attended last week. However, there is still some final editing to be done before the document is published in February 1994. Copies will be placed in the Library as soon as the final version is available.

Mr. Llew Smith

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement on the matters discussed and decisions taken at the ministerial meeting reviewing the convention protecting the North sea against pollution, held in Copenhagen on 7 and 8 December.

Mr. Yeo

[holding answer 9 December 1993]: The third North sea conference in 1990 decided that there should be an interim meeting of Ministers to review progress on specific questions considered at that conference. This was the meeting that took place in Copenhagen on 7 and 8 December. Ministers or other representatives from Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the European Commission took part. My noble Friend Earl Howe and I represented the United Kingdom. A number of intergovernmental and international non-governmental organisations were also present.

The first task of the meeting was to review the report on the quality status of the North sea, which is taken to include the English channel, recently completed by the North sea task force. The Ministers congratulated the North sea task force on the successful completion of the report. We agreed to refer the recommendations in the quality status report to appropriate bodies for further consideration, but identified some areas for immediate attention—including the impact of fisheries, further controls on tributyl tin, reduction of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon inputs and a review of the strategy for achieving the goals set by the 1990 conference for inputs of toxic, persistent and bioaccumulative substances.

The second topic was the impact of shipping. We welcomed the achievement through the International Maritime Organisation—IMO—on the initiative of the North sea states, of stricter standards worldwide for oil discharges from shipping, the work under way in the IMO on chemical discharges and the action being taken by the EC Transport and Environment Councils to improve the protection of the seas against maritime pollution. Further action was agreed on shore reception facilities, enforcement and air pollution from ships. On the initiative of the United Kingdom, the Ministers decided on joint efforts to achieve early agreement within the International Maritime Organisation to a convention on liability and compensation for damage caused by accidents involving ships carrying hazardous or noxious cargoes, and to review the question at the 1995 North sea conference in order to find other solutions if progress in the IMO is insufficient.

The third topic was the input of nutrients to the North sea. The 1990 conference had called for a 50 per cent. reduction by 1995 in inputs of nutrients to areas where they were likely, directly or indirectly, to cause pollution. In the case of the United Kingdom, however, only a few estuaries in United Kingdom waters are under investigation as possible problem areas. Inputs from the continent, on the other hand, affect substantial problem areas along much of the continental coast. The meeting noted that the reductions in nitrate inputs to these problem areas by 1995 were, in general, unlikely to be achieved, mainly because of the difficulties of achieving sufficient reduction in agricultural inputs. Ministers therefore agreed on the need for the countries concerned to implement, or improve their implementation, of all the necessary measures. One promising approach was the application of the concept of balanced fertilisation. Agreement was reached on work to define this and related concepts. It proved impossible, however, to reach agreement on the form of a commitment to their application. The United Kingdom and France considered that it was premature to set a fixed date for achieving balanced fertilisation before the concept was defined and it was clear what was involved.

The final topic was the effects of pesticides on the North sea. The meeting concluded that much progress had been made towards the targets for the reduction of pesticide inputs set in 1990, but that for eight substances this progress was insufficient and further efforts were required. On the initiative of the United Kingdom, Ministers confirmed that measures had to address non-agricultural, as well as agricultural, uses of pesticides. The meeting also stressed the need to address all uses of pesticides causing environmental harm and to promote environmentally friendly approaches to agricultural production; steps were agreed to take all this forward.

A copy of the statement of conclusions adopted by the Ministers will be placed in the Library.

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