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Oil Slicks

Volume 931: debated on Monday 9 May 1977

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asked the Secretary of State for Trade whether he is satisfied with the contingency plans of his Department for dealing with oil slicks.

Contingency plans to protect the coasts from pollution have been tested by exercises and live incidents and shown to be generally satisfactory. Nevertheless my Department constantly endeavours to improve its capability in order to meet changing circumstances, such as the additional pollution hazards of offshore oil exploitation.

In the case of the recent Ekofisk blow-out, the blow-out preventer was wrongly fitted upside down. Does that not indicate a need for close: inspection? Since such incidents as the Ekofisk blow-out and the tanker which is today reported to be grounded off the coast of Germany could have disastrous consequences, what additional steps are the Government taking to ensure that the oil companies face up to their responsibilities to provide vessels to fight fires, to deal with pollution and to prevent damage to fishing grounds and coastlines?

The first part of my hon. Friend's question is a matter not for me but for the Secretary of State for Energy. As for the responsibilities of oil companies, the specific point that my hon. Friend has mentioned is being closely investigated with the oil companies. There is a Standing Committee on Pollution Clearance at Sea, and a whole variety of other methods have been established to ensure that there is the closest coordination between all organisations and parties which have some responsibility in this area.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that I am grateful to him and to a galaxy of Ministers who have been explaining to me the precautions against pollution? The public will be grateful to the Government for the plans they have drawn up. Is he also aware, however, that there is still some anxiety about the chain of command and whether each local authority has sufficient resources to discharge its wide responsibilities?

This morning the right hon. Gentleman came to see the Secretary of State for Energy and, as he put it. a whole galaxy of Ministers. We had a long and fruitful discussion about a whole variety of matters that concern us all.

On the point about the chain of command, we do not wish to be complacent but we have no reason at present to consider that it has led to any difficulties. However, we are keeping the matter under review, as the right hon. Gentleman knows. The point about local authorities is a matter for the Secretary of State for the Environment, but I do not believe that there is cause for anxiety on this score, although the level of resources must be increased, and this matter is receiving careful attention.

Is the hon. Gentleman's Department responsible for evaluating the effect of pollution on fishing grounds? If not, who is carrying out such an inquiry and when are we likely to hear the results?

That is a matter for the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, but there is co-ordination with a number of Ministries involved in the matter and a joint effort is being made.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that compensation has not yet been paid in respect of boats in Folkestone Harbour although the oil damage there took place more than 18 months ago? Will he give an assurance that he will speed this up?

I shall look at the matter, but I do not recall the hon. Gentleman previously having written to me about it. However, as he has now drawn the matter to my attention I shall certainly look into it.