§ Mrs. Butler
To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what assessment he has made of the extent of aggregate prospecting in the middle deep and outer Thames estuary and what consultation his Department has had with which companies on the commercial extraction of such aggregates. 
§ Mr. Raynsford
[holding answer 16 July 1997]: The Secretary of State has no involvement with offshore aggregate prospecting and, consequently, he has no information about its extent within the middle deep and outer Thames estuary.
Prospecting for marine sand and gravel is licensed by the Crown Estate as a custodian of virtually all the territorial sea bed out to 12 nautical miles. Before the Crown Estate issues a prospecting licence, it seeks comments from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the appropriate countryside agencies and the royal commission on historical monuments of England. Prospecting has very little impact on the sea bed because the survey techniques are mainly non-intrusive and surveys are governed by a voluntary code of practice between the industry and MAFF. Bulk sampling—maximum 500 tonnes—requires the prior agreement of MAFF.
Commercial extraction of marine aggregates requires a dredging licence granted by the Crown Estate which will not grant a licence until the Secretary of State issues a favourable "Government view" on the application for a licence. The "Government view procedure", co-ordinated by this Department, provides for a comprehensive environmental assessment to be made of the dredging proposals, including their possible effect on coastal defences, nature conservation and fishing interests. Unless the Secretary of State is fully satisfied that all these interests will be safeguarded, a favourable "Government view" will not be issued.
The Secretary of State consults the British Marine Aggregates Producers Association on matters of dredging policy.