Postponed Proceeding on Question,
That this House approves the White Paper on the 'Torrey Canyon' (Command Paper, No. 3246), endorses the actions taken by Her Majesty's Government and resolves to refer to the Select Committee on Science and Technology the question of future measures against the pollution of our shores in the light of the experience gained from the wreck of the 'Torrey Canyon', resumed.
If the weather had been thick at the time, which it was not, or the ship had doubts about her true position, the speed should have been much reduced. The Seven Stones in themselves are not a truly perilous risk. They have good lighthouses in the fairly near vicinity, Wolf Rock and Bishop Rock and Longships, and they have their own light vessel which was on station at the time and which attempted to warn the oncoming "Torrey Canyon".
The hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Bessell) who, I am glad to see, is back in his place again, implied earlier today that the ship was not properly registered. I do not think that that is the true position. I would go a long way with him if he were to say that the ship was not adequately manned.
I did not say the ship was not properly registered. I said she was registered in Liberia, and the whole question of flags of convenience was a matter which needed examination.
The record will show what the hon. Gentleman said.
Once aground, and at that speed, and with the amount of hull damage which was obviously done, and with the notoriously gaseous character of the cargo, Kuwait crude, it must have been known that the chances were small and the hazards were great in any attempt to salvage the hull. It must have been known that there was a widespread risk of pollution by the escape of the crude oil. This was inevitable. In my opinion, every effort should then have been made to salvage as much as possible of the cargo without attempting to move the ship.
I know well the difficulties of ownership, of registration, and of charterers, all being of different nationalities, and I know well the difficulties of maritime law concerning salvage, but there is a point where a Government must step in, and I would have thought that in the very early stages, when the weather was still moderate and there was a good chance of doing something to mitigate this nuisance, if not to clear it up altogether, that chance should have been taken.
Later the Government did not show much scruple when authorising the bombing. It would have been a lot better if they had made an earlier decision to attempt to pump out or, alternatively, to blow out—and when I say "blow", I do not mean by high explosive bombs but by compressed air—the cargo of crude. I realise that a gaseous cargo of this nature involves risks, but during those early days many people were still on board, and so far we have had no precise evidence of the way in which the salvage captain died so tragically during the course of his work in the engine room. There are conflicting reports on this point.
The load was 117,000 tons and any small part of that which could have been salvaged and taken into a secure hull would have helped to prevent pollution. The destruction by fire brought about by bombing or by other means is the resort of the destitute in a case of this nature. We do not yet know whether the cargo itself has been totally destroyed or whether only the light oils have been burnt off, leaving a tarry residue to come ashore later and pollute our beaches.
Hon. and right hon. Members of the Government may laugh, but this will be no laughing matter when it happens. Clearing that sort of substance will make the clearing of ordinary crude oil mere child's play. That is where the Government made their great mistake, and that is where I criticise them.
I acknowledge the difficulties involved, but this at least was a possibility which could have been tackled in those few days between 19th March—the day after the ship foundered—and 23rd March. There is such a manoeuvre as laying off a small tanker on the end of a long warp, with a heavy chain cable springing the warp, and letting that tanker run her engines very slowly astern so as to keep herself taut down to leeward, and then to rig floating hoses or floating blowing lines. That has been done before with success, and it could have been attempted in this case. It is on that ground that I condemn the technical advice which the Government were anxious to take wholesale without considering the alternatives. That is where the fault lay.
I am grateful to you for calling me, Mr. Speaker, because although I know that many other hon. Members have constituency interests in this matter and I have not, I am a Member of the Select Committee to which this matter will be referred if the Motion is agreed to tonight. Perhaps the best contribution that I can make is to put before the House some of the problems that I foresee arising as a result of the Committee's being given this commission.
The Select Committee on Science and Technology has already involved itself in a fairly substantial study of the nuclear reactor programme and is already committed well up to the Summer Recess, if not beyond, on that exercise. One of the tasks on which it is engaged will involve it in making a recommendation to the House, at the appropriate moment, as to the future number of consortia dealing with the nuclear energy programme. There is some urgency about that matter. I and, I am sure, other members of the Select Committee would regard it as highly regrettable if, because of what we are being asked to do in the Motion, if approved, we had to drop the programme we are already engaged on.
There are 14 members of the Select Committee. Not all of them are able to turn up at every meeting. We have an enormous amount of background reading to do. We have to study written evidence as well as pay great attention to the oral evidence given before us. After we have heard the evidence, we obviously have to consider what our next step should be. This in itself is a big enough job. In addition, we have to consider what visits we should make outside London to keep ourselves fully informed of the problems we are considering.
As a purely mechanical problem, the task which will be given to the Select Committee if the Motion is approved, of considering the whole matter of preventing a repetition of the type of oil pollution of our coasts which resulted from the wreck of the "Torrey Canyon", is enormous. However willing we may be, we shall inevitably have to ask certain members of the Committee to drop out of the study of the nuclear reactor programme and see whether we can form one group of the Select Committee to consider the "Torrey Canyon" matter, because I think that it would be the wish of the House, if the Motion is approved, that the matter should be dealt with with the utmost expedition.
It is important that the Select Committee carries out its investigation whilst memories are fresh. We have seen during the course of the debate how quickly memories become distorted. They will become even more distorted the further from the event we get.
I am glad to see that the hon. Member for Bristol, Central (Mr. Palmer) is in his place. The members of the Select Committee greatly appreciate the guidance he gives us as Chairman of the Select Committee. All members of the Committee, whatever their party, have great admiration for the way the hon. Gentleman conducts himself in the Chair. None of us would wish to see his already difficult job made more difficult.
I ask the Government seriously to consider how urgent they regard the study of this matter to be by the Select Committee. If we begin this study immediately, we shall run two risks. First, certain international investigations are now proceeding. We do not know what the outcome of them will be. If we are too precipitate, we may be made to look ludicrous because we have reached our conclusions without weighing all the evidence which will eventually become available. On the other hand, if we are to go ahead with only part of the inquiry, somebody will start criticising us; we shall be receiving evidence, presumably from outside, which will try to cover all aspects; there will be an immense secretarial job for the Committee in sorting out the evidence submitted to us.
I am not certain whether any Select Committee, with the best will in the world, can hope to cope adequately with a problem as important as the "Torrey Canyon" one, if we have to continue sitting in Committee Room 16. This is a matter of considerable public interest. This Select Committee is already hearing evidence in public. I believe that it was the first Select Committee to do so. To that extent, we broke new ground. Every member of the Committee is acutely aware that the witnesses have their backs to any member of the public who chooses to turn up. The acoustics of the room are appalling. The "Torrey Canyon" matter is of such an enormously wide compass that the public interest in the Committee's deliberations is likely to be much more intense than it is in the nuclear reactor programme.
I well understand that it would be wrong for me in any way to prejudge what the Committee itself will decide, Mr. Speaker, and I was not seeking to do that. All I am doing is asking the House to visualise some of the problems which will confront us. I believe that the Government, very properly, if I may say so, are anxious that this inquiry should be seen to be thorough, should be open to the public, should be open to anyone who wishes to give evidence, and open for anyone to submit written evidence.
All these aspects of the problem confront us with a considerable mechanical difficulty which the Committee as at present constructed and at present served cannot, it seems to me, hope to meet in the way we would all wish it to be met. I believe that the Committee can be so staffed and serviced as to do it, but I ought to tell the House that we are at present in considerable difficulties for the service of both typists and printers. There is one clerk who serves the Committee, and no one could be more assiduous in his duties than he.
I believe that we shall have to duplicate our duties, having some members on nuclear reactors and some on the "Torrey Canyon", so that we shall need additional staff. I wonder whether the Government have fully considered, with the Leader of the House and the apropriate authorities, whether the staff are available. Unless they are, we shall fall down on the job, and none of us wishes to do that.
I have listened to the debate with the utmost interest, and I have listed some of the issues which have been put before us. I shall try to summarise those which I have noted on the way through the debate. First, there is the whole question of the legal position. I do not know from the Motion whether it is envisaged that we shall go into that matter. I can foresee that, whether it be the intention or not, we shall inevitably be involved in some legal issues, not only in international maritime law but in our own law and the rôle of local authorities. Many hon. Members, for instance, have talked about having a Minister in charge of the seven Departments which are concerned in an issue of this kind. This in itself would call for expert advice.
Next, there is the need for supplies to be made available to local authorities. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Bodmin (Mr. Bessell) used the phrase, "a blueprint for action on massive pollution", and, presumably, the Committee will be asked to advise on such a blueprint. At least, it is a possible subject for us to have to discuss.
There are, then, all the technical questions about whether demolition charges should be placed on board, whether bombing should be indulged in, or whether some other method should be used. There is the whole question of the use of decontaminating agents, the viscosity of oil, the feasability of firing oil whether in the ship or on the surface of the sea. There is also the question of detergent poisoning of flora and fauna.
My hon. Friend the Member for Poole (Mr. Murton) raised what is, perhaps, one of the most important matters of all, the consideration we must give to the possibility of the wreck of a nuclear-powered ship in the future. This is a new science on which we shall require much advice, but I am beginning to wonder who will give it, as the United States snip "Savannah" is the only nuclear-powered civil ship I know of.
There is the whole question of the use of booms, and pollution of the sub-strata of the beaches, which the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Dr. John Dunwoody) raised. Further, there is the question of the size, speeds and routes of tankers, and the subject of navigational aids. The hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne said that, perhaps, alarm clocks would have been more valuable than radar in this instance.
There are the questions of flags of convenience and of salvage risks. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wells (Lt.-Cmdr. Maydon) raised the question of the feasibility of a long tow of a ship which has been holed as badly as the "Torrey Canyon" was. There is the question whether a Lloyd's A1 certificate has much relation to the standard of the crew or the captain of a ship.
I think that I have said enough to confirm what the hon. Member for Bodmin said as he concluded his speech, that this will be a tough run for the Committee. It certainly will be, and I am anxious to see that the Committee is capable of reaching the finishing post with credit, having done a job which will be of some value.
Perhaps the most pertinent question was asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Truro (Mr. Geoffrey Wilson)—the question of how the accident happened. I suppose that a quick answer would be that it happened because somebody forgot that it is never very wise at sea, or anywhere else, to take a collision course for a solid object, be it rock, lighthouse, light-ship or mainland. I am
reminded of a quotation from Admiral Nimitz's book. The quotation hangs below a picture of Admiral Nimitz in the wardroom of the United States nuclear submarine, "Sea Wolf". It says:
Nothing is more dangerous than that a seaman should fail to take the necessary precautions lest they should prove to have been unnecessary.
Safety at sea for a thousand years has depended on exactly the opposite philosophy.
Possibly the captain of the "Torrey Canyon" would agree.
If we are to go into the whole of this question in the Select Committee, everyone recognises the stint being given to hon. Members of that Committee. To do the job with the assiduity we should, and within the time we should take, hon. Members will have to continue their work during Parliamentary Recesses; they should be equipped with a better meeting place than they have, and they should have a bigger staff.
I am not sure that the Government really thought all this out before asking us to take on this job. If we take it on we shall do our best, but it will be very difficult. I hope that in his reply the right hon. Gentleman will at least give an assurance that he will go into this matter with the Leader of the House and the appropriate authorities, to make certain that we are not given a task that is impossible to perform adequately, and that it will be recognised that the hon. Members concerned will be doing a job that is often given to a separate tribunal sat up for the purpose, with trained counsel to question witnesses and so forth. We are as yet probing how we shall properly complete the job we are already doing.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson). I hope that he will understand that I am anxious to close my speech as quickly as possible.
In conclusion, I ask the Government if they will at least recognise that to some extent they are asking us in the Motion to prejudge what I hope the Committee will be able to inform the House more fully about. I am prepared to do that tonight, but I do so on the understanding that the Government should feel absolutely free if, after further contemplation, they decide that another form of inquiry would be more appropriate to carry out this work.
Having said that, I hope that they will give every attention to the great problems with which they will confront the Committee and that the inquiry, whatever its form, will ensure that never again shall we have the difficulties arising from an oil tanker sinking at sea.
It is with considerable pride that I rise this evening as the Member of Parliament for Honiton. It was a year and three weeks ago that I last rose from this very same place. There is a certain satisfaction in being able to do so now, not with a majority of 10, but with a majority of only 10 less than 16,000.
I wish to pay tribute to the work of the late Mr. Robert Mathew, who was a Member of this House for twelve years.
Mr. Mathew died at an early age. He had played a considerable part in the activities of this House, particularly those concerned with foreign affairs and Europe, having twice served on the delegations to the Council of Europe and Western European Union. Indeed, he culminated his career by being a Minister at the Foreign Office. I believe that few people knew that he spoke seven languages. In his constituency, he was judged as being a most admirable and excellent M.P., looking after local affairs. I have a difficult task to follow in his footsteps.
Might I also asked that the sympathy of this House should go to his widow and his children? [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Mrs. Mathew was well known in this House. Indeed, hon. Members might like to know that numerous members of the staff have asked me since my return how Mrs. Mathew and the family are. I think that it is a particular tribute to the part she played in supporting her husband that she should have made that impression here.
Obviously, in this place, as with any other, one can only cease to be a maiden once and therefore I shall only say about my constituency that obviously it was and stood to be considerably affected by the disaster that took place on 18th March. The lovely seaside resorts, rivers and coombs turn the division of Honiton into probably the most beautiful in the country. Indeed, perhaps the only thing that might be said adversely about it is that too many people have known Honiton not necessarily for its beauty but for the smoke as one attempted to get through the town which bears that name. We now have a by-pass and at some other time I must turn to the parking regulations which exist there and which were never there before we had the by-pass.
I want to say one other thing and I promise not to take up too much time. During my sabbatical days—and I say this with great respect and from a degree of affection for the House of Commons—I have seen from the outside that often the House of Commons appears to take itself too seriously, that people outside do not consider that our day-to-day routine is as important as we sometimes think it is. Indeed, I believe that the influence of the House would be very much greater if hon. Members realised that fact.
Indeed I will, Mr. Speaker. I must first declare a specific interest in that I have associations with both oil and chemical companies. I hope it may be of some use to the House that I can speak with some expert knowledge.
I want to pay tribute to the Minister of Housing and Local Government and his colleague from the Navy Department for the extremely friendly and helpful way in which they always dealt with any inquiry that came from hon. Members while tackling this disaster. Whether one always agrees with them or not, I must pay tribute to the way they dealt with hon. Members from the South-West during this period.
There are two basic questions in any post-mortem. They are: did the Government act quickly enough and was their action adequate? There is no doubt—it would be quite wrong of the Government to suggest the contrary—that there was major concern throughout the country about whether the Government had acted quickly enough. After all, it was The Times which said, a matter of eleven days after the event:
The British Government … have managed nothing better than the dubious expedient of assembling flotillas of small craft to squirt detergent at the perimeter of the drifting oil slicks…".The Times, whatever one may feel about it, would only make a statement like that if there was serious concern within the country. It is correct to ask: did the Government act quickly enough?
The Government could answer "Yes" to both questions I have put if one takes into account the circumstances which have arisen since the disaster. It would have put that answer in the gravest possible doubt if the weather had turned against the Government and against the South-West during the fourth or fifth day after the disaster. Then, there is no shadow of doubt that the beaches of the South-West would have been inundated with the most immense deposit of oil that we have ever known. There is no doubt that at that time we would have been quite unprepared for it.
The local authorities acted extremely quickly and incisively to ensure that action was taken to deal with the situation. It is true that local authorities had received no written communication from any Ministry a matter of 12 days after the ship had run aground. Surely the Minister of Housing, of all people, must realise that town clerks would not give legal advice to their authorities about what aid they could get from the rates unless there was some written communication from the Minister.
It is no good the Government saying that this was announced in the Press or that town clerks could have seen it on television. Either of these arguments, as the Home Secretary would know, would be no use in a court of law if there was a dispute about what local authorities could claim from the Government. Although the Prime Minister had said that Ministers were in contact with local authorities, and this is much more true of Cornwall than of Devon, I must point out that on Easter Sunday, seven clear days after the vessel had run aground, a telephone call was made to a number of town clerks in my division, inviting them to a meeting in Plymouth on Easter Monday.
Some went along with their borough engineers. Their visit was taken up with a very small demonstration of how oil could be dispersed from the beaches. No conference was held on the legal problems or the rate assistance problems. I can only tell the Minister that these town clerks returned very upset that they had been called away on Easter Monday to such little purpose.
May I remind the hon. Gentleman that on the previous Saturday, the Easter Saturday, I had a meeting—which was convened through the good offices of the officers of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government in the area—with the representatives of those Devon authorities which had a coastline? That was seven days after the "Torrey Canyon" went aground.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that information, which I accept. But this was a meeting about which two of my local authorities did not know anything and which they did not attend. Just as I will accept the hon. Gentleman's statement, I am sure that he will accept that I am not trying to misrepresent the situation. The Monday meeting was the first meeting of which two major urban districts in my constituency had notice.
An aide memoire about the problem which confronts a local authority when oil hits its beaches is essential and it should be sent to local authorities as soon as possible after the disaster is known.
Then I find myself in extreme difficulty. I attended a meeting called by the Minister on the Tuesday after he is suggesting that this was done. I was informed only at ten minutes before midnight on Easter Monday that there would be a meeting at 11.30 on the Tues- day. I am told that people were trying to contact me all day. But I was at my home, and it would have been quite evident to anybody who bothered to look in "Who's Who" what the address was.
At the meeting I pressed solidly for an aide memoire. I was not given the information which I have just been given. Certain Ministers at that meeting promised that they would send to the members attending it all the details which were available and would continue to do so. If that is correct, why were we not told that at our meeting in Plymouth on the Tuesday?
I have in my hand the piece of paper which we were given at that meeting. If this is an aide memoire on the clearance of oil from the beaches, obviously the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Bessell) does not understand the problem, because it was so minute and so lacking in detail.
I do not make this as a party political point. I am not interested in the party political aspect of the matter. [Laughter.] Hon. Members opposite can laugh, but if their authorities were hit by this problem—and any area on the coast may be—they would want to have the best available information.
At the time there was in existence a report produced by a number of experts on the problem of Kuwait oil—exactly the same oil—in spoilage in Milford Haven. It dealt not only with manpower organisation, but with methods of removing floating pollution, pollution on rocks, sea walls and hard surfaces, in rock pools, on beaches, on mud flats, on reeds and grasses and also with the cleaning of boats and rehabilitation. The hon. Member for Bodmin must know that the sort of information which the local authorities were given was certainly not in that kind of detail. When examining what has happened, it is of the greatest importance that we should be able to ensure that we can learn from experience so as to benefit in future.
I have a number of specific questions. The Home Secretary said that the cost of the operation so far was about £2 million. Will the Minister of Housing say by how much he believes that figure is likely to be exceeded before the problem is solved? We would understand it he were unable to be precise, but can he give a contingency figure which his and the other Ministries concerned may be allowing, so that we can get some sort of estimate of how much the final figure will be?
The control of shipping in British territorial waters is not a problem affecting only the South-West. It affects Tees-side, where a vast amount of oil is now being brought to new refineries, the Thames, Southampton, Milford Haven, as well as Liverpool and parts of Scotland. To say that this problem is being referred to international committees is not good enough. The oil companies in this country would be only too delighted to co-operate with the Minister immediately in designing specific regulations which, if they did not have the force of law, would at least have the co-operation of the companies and result in a little more coordination in the movement of heavy tankers immediately off our coasts than there appears to be now. I urge the Minister not to postpone this matter while he waits for international committees to report. Everyone knows how long that could take, and the country would welcome speedy action by the Government.
One of the issues which has been raised throughout the country and in the debate has been that of the size of tankers. It would be popular to suggest that tankers must be much smaller than major tankers now are. Before hon. Members propose limitation of the size of tankers, they should realise that large bulk carriage is a method of getting fuel oil more cheaply to these islands than in any other way. If we were to take action to work for the limitation of size of tankers, this would represent a cost which would have to be borne by the consumer.
I have tried to get some information, because one paper carried a report suggesting that all tankers should be limited to 10,000 tons. If that were done, the cost to the consumer, let alone the capital cost which would have to be met by companies, would be likely to approach £100 million in less than three years. Therefore let nobody glibly talk about limitation in tanker size without realising the likely cost to the consumer.
I listened with great interest to the point made by my hon. Friend concerning speed limits. The point which I have made enforces what my hon. Friend said about decisions concerning the control of shipping within coastal waters.
I turn quickly to ask a question on the problem of residuals. It is well known that once the lighter fractions of oils have been burnt off, whether by withering or by fire, from crude oil, the residuals are much more difficult to remove once they have been washed ashore. If these residuals sink, as is possible, they may be thrown up on the coastline for many months.
Is the Minister prepared to keep standby arrangements available so that if tarry or bituminous residuals are thrown up on beaches, they can be dealt with? Secondly, has he any scientific information about how great this problem is likely to be because of the action that has come about since the clearance of the "Torrey Canyon" and specifically concerning the type of detergents that have been used?
I therefore turn, in the concluding part of my speech, to action for the future. Will the Minister tell the House about the adequacy of the detergents which have been used? It was put to me early on in this affair by one of his hon. Friends that scientific information showed that the types of detergent did not really matter in operating on the oil slicks for the purpose of clearing them. I have received information which is in contrast to that and which shows that some detergents are much more effective, even when one takes into consideration the immense amount of wastage which occurs—and there is, of course, massive wastage.
What action has the Treasury taken concerning approved lists, and does the Minister feel that enough research has gone into this matter?
I said that I was coming to the end of my remarks, Mr. Speaker, and, having sat through all but 20 minutes of the debate, I have deliberately cut out any points which have been raised earlier.
Secondly, in considering action for the future, may I ask him about a standby arrangement? The problem is one which can only be dealt with by quick action if, for example, it should strike overnight. It is not only a matter of a similar disaster occurring again, but something which can be caused by tankers cleaning their tanks, and it is a problem which can occur anywhere round our coats. Can the Minister say that he believes that it is essential to have some standby organisation which can go into action immediately that we hear of further oil pollution on our beaches? It is well within the understanding of the House that it could happen in the areas of two local authorities who are quite incapable of coping with such a situation themselves. When it affects small local authorities, it is a major problem for the future.
In our whole consideration of the catastrophe, it is important not only that we should have had this debate, and I am sure that this matter should be considered by the Select Committee. In that connection, may I urge the Minister that, if problems arise such as those which have been outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke), he will take us through the usual channels the possibility of enlarging the Select Committee specifically to deal with them so that the Committee can report to the House as speedily as possible. Let us make certain that the file is not closed now, as has so often been the case when we have had debates in the House. Let us make sure that we have learned from the disaster so that, if it occurs again, we shall be able to act slightly more efficiently than happened on this occasion.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Mr. Peter Emery) on an extremely interesting speech. I want particularly to welcome him back after his triumph at the recent by-election, and I congratulate him on the way he touched on parking problems in Honiton when he was supposed to be discussing this White Paper.
He made some interesting points, particularly those about the difficulties of liaison between the Government and local authorities, which rather emphasised the need for dealing with oil pollution at a national level. We must be much more prepared for future attacks than we are at present.
The main object of the House in this Motion, which is mainly to approve the White Paper, is to learn what lessons we can from what the Prime Minister has himself referred to as "a national disaster". I have no intention of opposing the White Paper. I think that it is right and proper that it should have been published, and no doubt it is an accurate description of the events which have taken place and the action which has been taken. It would not be particularly useful to spend too much time during the debate having a general post mortem on the action taken by the Government in their dilemma or to claim necessarily that a Conservative Government would have taken very different action. That is hypothetical, although I have no doubt that, in one or two important matters, very different action would have been taken.
There is one criticism which I would make. I know that this has been touched on many times, but I make no apology for referring to it again because it is the most important issue, and it refers to the timing of the effort to destroy the oil remaining in the tanker.
I feel that the only excuse for it would have been if it had been possible to pump out the oil into another tanker, and I accept the Home Secretary's remarks when he opened the debate and made it quite clear for the first time that this was not practical and could not have been done. That made it essential to destroy the oil as soon as possible.
I remain unconvinced by the statements of the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and other Ministers in reply to Questions in the House and the remarks in the White Paper about the delay in this matter. In the seven days which elapsed between the visit to the tanker by the chief salvage officer of the Department and the bombing, the majority of the oil was allowed to escape from the ship and cause havoc and suffering to bird life, fishing interests, desecration of the beaches and enormous expense in the cleaning up operations.
Paragraph 10 of the White Paper states:
Until the ship broke up, the best professional advice available to the Government was that, although the chances of refloating were not as high as the salvors believed, this course still held possibilities of success.
That does not seem a strong enough argument. As my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wells (Lieut-Commander Maydon) pointed out, if one is to conduct this type of operation properly one must have a long period of good weather, but unfortunately the weather was not good at that time.
The next question which must be asked is about the need to obtain the permission of the owners. I appreciate the difficulties involved in this matter. The Prime Minister said that the owners' permission was not sought when the bombing took place. That being so, the need to obtain permission should not have presented any difficulty at an earlier stage, either.
It must be admitted that a difficult situation was faced and that it is easy to be wise after the event. Nevertheless, many of my hon. Friends advocated the course that was finally taken long before the Government decided to take that action. Much trouble could have been averted had a bold decision been taken earlier. We certainly have a definite lesson to learn from this experience.
These remarks comprise my main criticism of the Government's handling of the affair. As I said, the main object of this debate should be to look to the future. Although the most important aspect of our consideration must be to prevent a similar occurrence, I am glad to note that paragraph 46 of the White
Paper refers to there being an early meeting of the Inter-Governmental Maritime Consultative Organisation. Future incidents of this type are probable, since it is not possible to legislate against human error. A leading article in the New Statesman of 31st March summed the matter up well when it stated:
A large oil tanker is equipped with the most refined navigational aids and is commanded by seamen of great experience. The Seven Stones Reef is a well known navigational hazard. The chance that the 'Torrey Canyon' would strike on the Seven Stones Reef was negligible—but it happened".
That summed it up, perhaps drily and laconically, but accurately. The biggest understatement made during the debate was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Poole (Mr. Murton), who said that there must have been something wrong with the course taken by the "Torrey Canyon". How right he was.
We must have definite plans laid down for the future for the dispersing of oil at sea and for the cleaning of beaches should any future accident regrettably occur. We need to look at the whole problem as a national one and be told whether the Government will give full aid, including 100 per cent, grants to local authorities, and I agree with what has been said about a co-ordinating committee.
This whole debate to my constituents and to me personally comes at an extremely ironic time because I initiated an Adjournment debate on a similar but smaller problem on 6th February of last year. I asked then that the Government should not merely make sympathetic noises in reply to my remarks. But that is what I got, and nothing more. The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy, whom I am pleased to see here, said that cleaning up the beaches was not a Government responsibility and that no grants were available. Yet the same hon. Gentleman, during this affair, was sent to Cornwall in charge of the whole operations. He said that the local authorities there would have a 75 per cent, grant plus anything in addition that would be required to meet a cost of more than a 2d. rate. In other words, there has been a complete, utter and absolute reversal of Government policy. No wonder the Under-Secretary looks at me a bit sheepishly as we meet in the Lobby. He is looking a bit sheepish tonight. I like him immensely, and that is why I wish I could pay tribute to him as the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Bessell) and other West Country Members have done because he has given their local authorities a 75 per cent, grant whereas he has not given other authorities a single penny.
I welcome the Government's decision. It would be niggardly of me not to do so. But one can surely understand the feelings of the local authorities in my constituency which are still clearing up oil from their beaches entirely at the ratepayers' expense while their colleagues a little further along the coast are getting a 75 per cent, grant for this action.
I am not asking for retrospective legislation. I am not even asking for retrospective action. But I want the Minister to appreciate that I am serious when I say that I hope that in fairness and justice, the 75 per cent, grant will be made available for oil clearance work taking place from the date of the "Torrey Canyon" disaster. I trust that he will give this matter serious consideration. I do not say this facetiously. If the wind had not changed, if it were still blowing from the south-west, the Chichester constituency beaches could well be affected now by "Torrey Canyon" oil. This oil could be mixing with the oil of the previous disaster. What would then be the grant aid situation? Who could tell which was the "Torrey Canyon" oil and which was the oil from the previous occurrence?
I am terrified, Mr. Deputy Speaker, lest I should be ruled out of order in mentioning my constituency further. I will therefore conclude by reiterating two of the main lessons which I hope we have learned from this disaster: first, the need to take early and bold action to destroy oil in tankers which are involved in accidents which could seriously pollute our seas and beaches; and secondly, to deal with future incidents of this nature on a national scale with full Exchequer support.
This is essentially a practical matter and not really a party political one, and at this time of night I wish to deal quickly with a few practical points which have occurred to me.
I agree with some of the criticisms which have been levelled at the way in which the Government have handled this problem, but I should like to sum up the situation in this way. Overall the Government were in the hands of the Navy throughout. So it is perhaps not surprising that in the end, and for the most part, the Government did most of the right things.
On the practical points, I am personally convinced that demolition charges would have been a better way of dealing with this situation than bombing. I say this with some assurance because, curiously enough, in 1940 I was concerned with, so to speak, a "Torrey Canyon" in reverse. This was when the Admiralty collected a dozen old tankers and tried to put them into Calais and Boulogne to smoke out and burn up the invasion barges which were being prepared by the Germans to carry out the invasion of Britain. This was what Winston Churchill at the time called his attempt to singe Hitler's moustache. This operation was put in charge of Captain Agar, V.C., and, without going into any of the details, the lessons we learned from this operation, which was eventually frustrated, were first, that it is difficult to burn oil on water, and secondly, that charges can be laid both for breaking open the tanks and igniting the oil inside those tanks. I believe that probably the most valid criticism of the Government's action is that during the calm, during the time just after the ship had stranded and the crew were on board, arrangements were not made to do this very simple thing. It is simple. I have done it with my own hands.
Another practical point which I think important for the future is that buoyant booms should be available. There are available commercial patterns of these buoyant booms which could be strung round any wreck which might occur in any way, whether through collision or stranding. There are booms like a giant cycle inner tube, which could be towed out by tugs very rapidly to any position to encircle any wreck. Of course, they cannot contain all the oil which might seep out, but they would limit the spread of the oil and make it easier to handle by whatever method decided upon.
Many people in this debate have referred to sea birds. I would like to join in the tribute which has been paid to those who are doing what they can about this problem. I very much fear, however, that a lot of those efforts will fail. I can remember that in the days when I was a child in the West Country birds were contaminated by oil even then, and however much we sought to clean them and free them from the oil it frequently happened that many were washed ashore dead on the next tide. We never saw a seagull in any way imperfect; every seagull is a complete and perfect thing. It is a fact of the law of nature that any seagull in any way imperfect is pecked to death by those which are perfect.
As so many hon. Members have said, the important thing in this debate is to look to the future, and I am sure that is right, and I would suggest, looking to the future, that the Government's first step should be directed towards preventing ships going ashore and from colliding. Incidentally, we have heard in this debate very little discussion about how the "Torrey Canyon" got aground. Many people have asked me, "How could she get aground in broad daylight and in such a position?" No one who has ever commanded a ship thinks to himself, "How could she get aground?" His immediate reaction, if he is honest with himself, is, "There, but for the grace of God.…" Because, however much equipment, radar, echo sounders, and other navigational aids we have, there will always be an element of human error.
There was for the area of the Seven Stones a Decca navigational chart. I have a chart here showing the area. Had the officer of the watch gone up on to the bridge and just pressed three little knobs, instantaneously and with absolute accuracy he would have obtained the exact position of the ship. Charts are available for waters all round the British Isles, and available to any ship, and ships should be equipped with such apparatus.
Yet although this completely reliable system is available, and although there are so many aids available to the navigator, it is still possible to chart the wrong lane, because of ordinary human fallibility. I think it was the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Dr. John Dunwoody) who, earlier in the debate, referred to the alarum clock being a navigational instrument. It was a valid point which he had. I myself have had a squadron of frigates in the North Sea, and seen French ships coming across from port to starboard, and we have blown sirens, and shone searchlights upon them, and finally had to take emergency action to avoid collision—simply because these navigational aids do breed a false sense of security, and the chap on watch just does not keep a proper look out.
One thing is quite clear for the future. Several hon. Members have said this. Tankers will become, and must become for economic reasons, larger and larger all the time. This is a fact of life, and we as a maritime nation have to face the fact.
With regard to flags of convenience, I would emphasise very strongly what was said from these benches earlier, that the way to deal with the problem is to create conditions in this country in which it is more advantageous and profitable to operate ships under the Red Ensign.
In this context I would emphasise the importance of the Merchant Navy to Britain, which is essentially a trading nation—everything should be done to encourage the Merchant Navy—and the enormous contribution which the existence of a thriving Merchant Navy makes towards the balance of payments. Incidentally, the navigational expertise of the Merchant Navy has justly been famous for a great many years.
The whole subject of the routing of shipping, particularly in the Channel, needs constant examination and overhaul. The Straits of Dover at present are in particular a nightmare for the captain of any ship. I agree with what was said earlier, that I.M.C.O. is doing valuable work, but the decisions of such an international organisation, because of the ramifications, must be slow. The Government should get together with the British Chamber of Shipping and take urgent measures to tighten the control of shipping in British territorial waters and approaching those waters. That is something that could be done nationally and without involving international delays. In this connection the Government should pay heed to the shipping industry and to the tanker owners because these people know their jobs.
Vast quantities of oil are imported into the United Kingdom during the course of a year. The remarkable statistic is about £600 million worth of oil a year. Perhaps the most astonishing thing about the whole question is that accidents such as occurred to the "Torrey Canyon" are relatively few and far between and that spillage is very slight. This in itself is a tribute to a very efficient and remarkable industry, the oil industry.
I pay tribute to the Royal Navy, the Royal Marines, the Army, the Royal Air Force, and the firemen who brought along their static water tanks, without which it would have been impossible to get the detergent mixed on the beaches. I also pay tribute to the farmers who lent their bulldozers, the fishermen and other civilian volunteers. One has to remember that this happened over Easter and that many people gave up their Easter leave. Particular attention should be paid to the Royal Marines, who went out in extremely rough seas and prevented the oil at the beginning from coming ashore, and also instructed the fishermen.
I join my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Mr. Emery) in thanking the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends for allowing West Country Members of Parliament to meet them on two occasions. I think that the right hon. Gentleman found that the Conservative and Liberal Members were constructive and tried to help him, and he was considerate enough to hear our points of view. We were rather ignorant about the background history, but I think that we were able to co-operate and give satisfaction to some of our constituents who were worried.
To pick up what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton, the instructions—not the oil pollution ones but the ones to local authorities—went out rather late, not until after 28th March. We were told that we should get other documents, but up to date I have received none and I hope that the Ministry will keep in touch with the local authorities in future. I should like to know why the Town Clerk of Plymouth was not invited to the first meeting. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary, the hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) called on the Lord Mayor, but the Town Clerk and his officials were not invited to the first meeting, although they were invited to the meeting later on at Exeter.
The point was that the meeting of the county clerks was related specifically to the establishment of control centres at Exeter. Plymouth was not involved because it was self-contained. That is why I went out of my way to call on the Lord Mayor and to see that the position was satisfactory.
I am glad to hear that. I know that the hon. Gentleman called on the Lord Mayor, for which I thank him. I am glad that he thought that Plymouth was so efficiently run and could therefore take care of itself.
I understand that the lightship has now been moved back into position near the Seven Stones, but I should like to know how clear the shipping lane is now, and whether other ships have been warned about the wreck which is still lying there. We realise that smaller ships can get round, but what directions have been given to shipping generally as to the width of the channel and what size of ship can get through?
I should also like to have some information about D.S.I.R. I understand that it has been studying the problem of the removal of oil of this type from beaches for about three years, and that it has already used some substance at Milford Haven. Was this the same substance as that used by the Navy when it began spraying detergent before the Government took action, or was that type of detergent found to be unsatisfactory? I should also like to know why trawlers were taken from Plymouth and Brixham when some were available in Newlyn and could have been used.
Will the trawler owners receive any compensation? I gather that the detergent is very detrimental, particularly if there is any cork in the construction of a boat. Apparently it eats through cork quite quickly. Many of the trawler people would like to know what compensation they will receive. In any case, their trawlers will need a great deal of cleaning before they can be used again.
In future, will a number of booms be kept ready in the neighbourhood of ports? I understand that the original slick was solid and thick, and that if booms had been put round it it could have been dragged away and eventually set light to, instead of being allowed to disperse.
The hon. Member who spoke about getting the ship off the Seven Stones was being a little optimistic. The Seven Stones rocks are composed of extremely strong granite, and a ship travelling at 17 knots would pile itself up on them very hard. I consider that the Government had only one alternative, namely, to fire the oil as soon as possible.
I agree that a Minister should be appointed with special responsibility for the co-ordination of this work in future. I suggest that a type of organisation should be established, perhaps under a Civil Defence officer, on the lines of the Royal Lifeboat Institution. It is not only oil that soils our beaches; our seas are becoming the dustbins of the world. This must be stopped. It is a danger not only to health but to fish and bird life. I hope that as a result of this incident the right hon. Gentleman will set up some organisation on the lines I have suggested.
I gather that the "Torrey Canyon" was classed as 100 A.1 at Lloyds; therefore we must consider that Lloyds thought that it was a fairly well-run ship. I should like to know whether the Minister can now tell us why it was so much off course. Was it true that at the last minute it had to take avoiding action in respect of some fishing vessels which unexpectedly got in its way?
We have heard from my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan Giles), who is an expert on radar, that it is not always satisfactory. I would like to know how satisfactory the Decca equipment is, and whether it can be used in future. It has been proved extremely satisfactory for aircraft and I would have thought that it was a more accurate type of instrument.
When the Government consider action for the future, would they not think that £100 is too small a fine for letting out oil? This is something which is very relevant, because while the "Torrey Canyon" was on the rocks helicopters and other aircraft flying over and around her actually saw other ships discharging oil and working out their tanks and blaming it, so we are told, on the "Torrey Canyon". We should keep a better watch on ships in the future. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester mentioned Dover, and I understand that at present there are about two thousand ships going through the Dover Strait every year. How many go round the south-western beaches? If those that do go round let out only a certain amount of oil this can mount up. Should not consideration be given to having special lanes in the future?
I would ask what are the tests on detergents used for destroying the oil. How many firms had tested their products, and how many were tested by the Government? I ask because I understand that Slikgone was used at 12s. a gallon, whereas BP 1002 as it is known was available at 7s. a gallon; but that was not recommended. What tests were made of the various detergents available? Or was it simply that there was a sufficient supply of one detergent to hand but not sufficient of another? Shall we have sufficient tests in the future in order to decide which is the more useful should an accident occur again?
I urge that there should be consideration of the suggestion we put forward to the right hon. Gentleman for the use of hovercraft to clean anyhow the edges of our beaches. Would they emulsify the detergents and the oil more quickly? We have been told that this might be considered; and is it necessary now to keep on spraying the sea? We shall need to keep our beaches properly clean perhaps for years to come especially when we remember that when 2,000 tons of oil escaped off the coast of California in 1957, the effect of the slick lasted for eight years. The trouble, too, came not so much from the oil. What did the damage was the detergent, which is so often toxic.
Earl Jellicoe, in another place, spoke of a previous incident in which the "Tokyo Maru" left a slick around the Scilly Isles eight miles long and half a mile wide behind her not so long ago. There was the German tanker which let out 1,700 tons of oil in the Medway, and the Greek tanker, "C.P. Goulandris" which discharged oil near Milford Haven in February last. So, we have to think not just of the "Torrey Canyon". Therefore, one Minister should have responsibility so that there can be co-ordination in the future. I know that there is the International Governmental Maritime Consultative Committee which in 1962 gained the agreement of 17 nations that they would not discharge oil within a hundred miles of any coast. However, under another agreement, far more nations— thirty—agreed on only fifty miles as the limit. Perhaps the Government could look into this in an effort to find out if many more nations could not agree to accepting the greater distance.
I would like to ask one or two practical questions about the future. First, for how long are the military to be employed? At one time there were, 1,500 troops working on the beaches. The time for their spring training is now near, and it would be most advantageous to the military authorities if we could have an idea of the number of weeks or months during which the Minister considers it will be necessary to employ troops, particularly the logistic sections which are now fully employed in dealing with the detergent. The training of the Army may have to be delayed and the exercises may have to be put off.
I suggest that, in the future, the county councils rather than the urban district, rural district and parish councils should be responsible for action in regard to oil. It would be much more satisfactory in Cornwall and Devon if the county council took over. Many of the smaller local authorities have a very small rate income, and they cannot afford the expense. A 75 per cent. reimbursement will not be much use to some of the smaller authorities, which need 100 per cent. owing to their small rateable value.
I understand that the borough engineers have hardly been able to do any other work for the last three weeks, and the clerks of the urban district councils are overworked. We ought to decide now which authority is to be the one to take responsibility for action in disasters such as this.
There has not been any reference so far as to the question of insurance and compensation. I assume that members of the Services are fully covered against accident, burns and so on. But what about the volunteers? Are they covered by any form of insurance? If they have an accident, do they get any compensation? I raised this matter with the right hon. Gentleman at the meeting we had in Plymouth, but there is no reference to it in the White Paper. One ought to consider the possible lasting effects of the detergent. I understand, for instance, that a condition called hyperventilation, that is, uncontrollable fast breathing, can be caused, and anyone suffering from asthma or bronchial complaints should not be enrolled as volunteers. There is the problem of dermatitis. People have been asked to put on barrier creams, but they can still develop dermatitis. If people are injured, or if they get some lasting trouble, will they have any compensation? It will not be easy to find volunteers in the future if people do not know what their position is.
The Warren Springs Laboratory has been working on such matters as the ill-effects of detergents since 1961. May we be told what the result is?
I support what my hon. Friend the Member for Poole (Mr. Murton) said about bird life. I gather that Penzance is a sort of "Clapham Junction" for migrating birds, and up to date about 40,000 have been treated. One good thing which may come out of this affair is that, for the first time, I understand, it has been possible to ring large numbers of guillemots and gannets in order to get some idea of their habits. But I believe that we shall find dead birds for a good many months to come, and, I am sorry to say, probably some dead seals as well. We are very grateful to the many people who volunteered to come down and look after the various birds and animals which suffered from the oil.
I come now to the work of the Marine Biological Association's laboratory in Plymouth. The laboratory took immediate action and started a centre for planning and co-ordinating marine biological research. The laboratory staff started work in the polluted waters as early as 24th March. During the Easter weekend they were able to start communications and collaboration with the key personnel in Devonport and arranged for one of their advisers on detergents to discuss with the chemists the nature of the products to be used in clearing the beaches.
The Laboratory sent out its research ship, the "Sarsia", which went to the Seven Stones area to take water samples, surface plankton hauls and fish trawls in the immediate vicinity of the heaviest offshore oil pollution. First reports from the six parties of expert scientists who have surveyed the effects of oil and detergents are very reassuring. There is one American amongst them, who had considerable experience in California, which was very useful. They are continuing this work over a wide area of the Cornish coast.
But that is only the first stage. The Natural Environment Research Council had already offered generous financial assistance to help the Plymouth programme. What will be the Government's contribution over and above their normal contribution? Forty-four scientists and assistants were involved in the switchover from the laboratory's normal programme, including six chemists, eight bio-chemists, and three botanists, 12 shore ecologists, and nine ship and offshore survey personnel. It is a very big programme, which will have to continue for some time. I hope that the Government will give financial assistance in this valuable work.
There are about 10,000 hotels and boarding houses in the area. I have some beautiful pictures which perhaps I can put in the Library to show how attractive the Cornish places are. We hope that the owners will not be affected, but if they are I hope that the Government will consider giving them some form of compensation. If they only let them off the Selective Employment Tax that would be a help.
The White Paper says of the future:
It will also be some time before the charges falling to local authorities and grant-aided from the Exchequer can be calculated.
I hope that when the calculations are made the Government will be very generous to all those concerned in this great effort.
The number of questions raised in the debate plainly indicate the immense interest in it. It is plain from the speeches of all right hon. and hon. Members who have taken part that while much of the burden and anxiety of the disaster fell upon the West Country everybody realises that it is possible for a similar disaster to occur in any other part of the country. We must consider the lessons to be learned from this event.
I very much welcome the Government's decision not to bury the question under their administrative and departmental considerations but to adopt most of the proposals put forward by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. We are very glad that the Select Committee on Science and Technology is to consider future measures against pollution in the light of recent experience.
However, I must press the Minister to answer the points put to him by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) about the scope of the reference to the Committee. We realise that the Committee is in control of its own proceedings, but what is said in the House and what it understands to be the House's determination in referring the matter to it are bound to set a limit to the way in which it approaches it. I need not repeat the formidable points on procedure, burden and method put to the House by my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke). There are many questions of a scientific and technical nature which it is eminently suitable that the Select Committee should consider. But there are many others that we have considered today which I doubt whether the Committee will be competent, within its vires, to consider. I doubt also whether it is fair to ask it to undertake the burden of such questions.
First, there is the whole question of the way the Government reached their decisions and the history of how they were taken. Secondly, how did the Government's administrative machinery work? Thirdly, there is the question of what is the present legal position in international law and, above all, what it should be. I observe that the Committee has not a single lawyer among its members. That may or may not be a recommendation, but when questions of international law arise it would be an advantage to have on the Committee at least one member with experience of law.
Then there is the question of our own municipal law and its amendment, and while no doubt the Committee can easily undertake recommendations affecting scientific and related matters, many other questions have been raised which have little to do with science and technology but have a great deal to do with general questions of policy, liability, third party rights, control of shipping and a host of other things which are surely not within the ordinary duty of the Select Committee. All these matters should be investigated, and I hope that steps will be taken to see that it is possible for the Select Committee to undertake ail these inquiries.
These are all very important questions, and while we look forward to hearing what the right hon. Gentleman has to say, we shall, above all, rely upon the Select Committee to conduct the most thorough investigation. We must look back for a moment at the history of the matter. I know that the Government are anxious that we should not. The hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen) asked why we should look back with hindsight. The Government have been particularly anxious to say that no one who did not open his mouth at the time should do so now. I have never heard a more protective exercise on behalf of any Government.
The Government had the responsibility. They alone were responsible for the conduct of affairs. A country expects foresight from its Government. If that Government loses a battle, it is perfectly proper for Parliament to inquire as to why. There may or may not be good excuses.
The whole of the oil escaped, yet the only objective of the Government was that it should not. They failed to destroy or deal with the oil. It may be that there are excuses, that there are reasons why anyone would have failed, but that is no reason to say that we should not look back at what happened because we did not speak at the moment it was happening.
The Government had access to the whole of the technical advice available. They had the Royal Navy, the oil companies and the owners at their disposal, and certainly right hon. and hon. Members on this side would have been thought very officious indeed if they had been ringing up people with whom the Government were dealing at the time. I myself would like to have been in possession of the information that the Government had, but it would have been wrong for me to have attempted officiously to poke my nose into affairs being dealt with between the Government, the Royal Navy, officials, oil companies and others. The Government are making an absurd defence.
I do not want to dwell on this aspect for long, however. I have some questions to ask. I have always thought, as a result of my experience in law, politics and, at one stage, in dealing with the planning of amphibious operations, that if one wants to discover what has gone wrong one must look at the very early stages, where the key is to be found. I suggest that we should look back to the position of the Cabinet when it met on Tuesday, 21st March. Here was a ship which had been aground for three days and nights. It had been thoroughly inspected. The problem was plain. It was obvious then that there had to be a decision by the Government as to what was the best risk to take.
What happened by that Tuesday? No meeting of the Emergency Committee had taken place by then. Can the Minister say whether by that time the Scientific Committee had been assembled? I understand that the Scientific Advisory Committee had been called in, but had his Committee actually met? My information is that it did not meet until the Wednesday.
I can see that it is always reasonable, if there are no other considerations, to continue salvage operations if there is a possibility of success. That is the usual practice at sea. But there were other considerations here, and the major one was: what was the cost of failure if the vessel was not salved? We have never been told by the Government how they assessed the possibilities, because there were three main considerations that they had to take into consideration. All that we have been told is that they relied on the advice of their expert. I would not criticise them for taking that advice. They were right to consult the experts, but experts are intended to set out the prospects and ultimately the Government, or anyone running a business, or a citizen, must assess and balance the risks.
There are three factors that the Government ought to have considered. First: what was the possibility of salvage? We have never been told if the Government asked or ascertained what were the chances. We have only been told that there was a possibility—a 10 per cent., 20 per cent., or 50 per cent, possibility? Did the Government ask their adviser what was the chance of getting the vessel off? This is the question that they ought to have asked, and we have never been told that they asked it. Secondly, what were the weather prospects? If my recollection is right, on 6th June on the Normandy beaches, the weather factor was good on four days only, with two days of storm thereafter. We have been told, in the course of the debate, that the Government knew perfectly well that storms were approaching long before the Thursday when they arrived.
Did they ask what were the prospects of the weather breaking before the high tides, on which alone they could rely arrived, six or seven days later? What would have been the effect of the weather breaking before? This is what happened. The ship broke up, and the oil escaped. We have never been told that they even considered weather factors. Was the advice of the salvage expert subject only to good weather? Was not the advice that the prospects of salvage depended entirely on good weather? We want to know this.
I entirely accept what the Home Secretary says about the impossibility of pumping the oil out. It was a very difficult operation, and I accept all that he has said. The Government were right there. I agree with one of my hon. Friends who suggested that this was all the more reason why they should have urgently examined the prospects of firing the ship, there and then. Did they ask about that problem? I would not think that the salvage expert, who is the only person about whom we have heard, was the right person of whom to ask that question. Blowing off the top of the vessel and firing it inside is quite a different problem. Was the Navy expert or the oil companies asked about this? I am instructed that the people with real experience about this, the oil companies, Shell and B.P., were not consulted as to how it could be done.
The question was what were the chances—10 per cent., 20 per cent, or 50 per cent? Then there are two possibilities. There was the possibility of firing the vessel, blowing the top off the ship, or of towing her off. It was only when those two possibilities had been assessed and balanced, together with the weather factor, that one was inclined to accept firing, if it could be done.
Listening to the speeches made by the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary, in the House of Lords and in reading the White Paper and everything else that has been said, I cannot find any evidence that the Government ever tried to assess the risks with anyone who was expert in these three different spheres. They simply asked their salvage expert the one question, he having no responsibility for the escape of the oil and being in no other way responsible for the risks liable to arise. We have heard from my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester (Rear Admiral Morgan-Giles), that in his view it was a perfectly simple operation, by plastic surgery as it has been called, to fire the contents of the ship as she lay on the rocks, in good weather.
An extraordinary statement which has come out of all this is the statement in paragraph 10 of the White Paper saying that the interests of the Government and of the salvors were the same. It seems to be an absolutely fundamental error in the Government's approach if that was the basis on which they approached the problem in the first instance. The interest of the salvors was to continue as long as there was any chance of getting the ship off the rocks, because they had a huge gamble and, provided there was any chance of getting if off, it was worth their while to go on. The interest of the Government was to minimise the risk of oil escaping, whatever might be the risk to the salvage operations. This was a clear conflict of interests and a clear conflict of duty and it was a fundamental error if the Government approached the problem on the basis that the interests of the salvors and of the Government were the same.
I suspect that, despite all the vigorous denials of the Prime Minister that he would ever consider private rights in any circumstances, the real position was that the Government were simply leaving it
until the ship was abandoned and they thought that they had some right to deal with it. We know that the Secretary of State for Defence himself, when asked the direct question by the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Dr. John Dunwoody) whether he would consider firing the wreck, said:
We are not in a position to be able to set fire to the ship until they "—
that is, the representatives of the company—
give their agreement that this can be done The vessel is on the high seas,…"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th March, 1967; Vol. 743, c. 1056.]
On the same day, the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Navy was saying precisely the same thing at Devon-port.
It may be that they changed their mind, of course, in the early days of that week, despite what they had said on the Monday, but if the Government had really changed their mind and were prepared to over-ride the interests of the salvors and the owners of the ship, how was it that in the evening of Friday, 24th March, the Under-Secretary for the Navy was telling the Press at Newlyn that when the owners had decided whether to declare her a total wreck, the experts would settle whether the tanker would be set on fire, split in two by setting charges, or have her remaining 80,000 tons of oil pumped out. It was a bit odd if at Newlyn on the Friday evening the Under-Secretary did not know that the Government had taken this vigorous line about ignoring rights, that nobody had told him. The truth is that the Government were sitting back during the whole of that week, perhaps rightly, perhaps wrongly, deciding on the rights of the salvors and the owners of the ship.
My own view is that they might very well have had rights to deal with the matter and to take a grip on it. By Article 4(1,b) of the convention against pollution, it is the duty of any ship owners to take all reasonable precautions, after the occurrence of damage to a ship, for the purpose of preventing or minimising the escape of oil, and if it was necessary at that stage for the Government to minimise the escape of oil by destroying the ship, it is my view that, the owners having failed to undertake the duty which lay upon them under the convention, the Government could have done it for them.
I am much obliged for the Attorney-General's confirmation of that view.
Even though it might have been a trespass on property, the Government could always have said that they would pay compensation. Compensation would not, as was suggested in the House of Lords, have been based on the full value of the ship at £4 million, but only on the chance of getting it off, and if there had been only a 10 per cent. chance of getting it off, then the compensation would have been £400,000, as was plainly indicated by the Burmah Oil Company case with the Government's destruction of installations in face of the Japanese advance. The operation has already cost £2 million and on top of that there is local authority expenditure as well as damage to beaches and fisheries and injury to the tourist trade. If this was possible and feasible in the early stages, as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester suggested that it was, it would have been far cheaper and far more effective to have fired the ship on the Tuesday originally.
I am sorry to place more questions on the Minister, but there are several others. The Liberian Government is to institute an inquiry. Can the Minister say whether Her Majesty's Government will be provided with the results of that inquiry? Will it be published in Liberia and sent to Her Majesty's Government and will Her Majesty's Government publish it and make it available to the people in this country so that its result may be known here?
Can we be told how much oil was destroyed by the bombing? On the Tuesday, the bombing was undertaken. I concede that having taken the course they did, it was the only couse left open to the Government. I think that they took the wrong course a week earlier, but, having taken that course, the only thing they could do was to try to destroy such oil as they could on the following Tuesday. How much oil was destroyed then? Was it the light fractions of the oil, and has much more sludge been left as a result of that operation?
Has France notified any claim against this country? The French papers have been saying that because of the way that the British Government handled the question of the firing they will have a claim against the United Kingdom. Since we have been notifying claims which we intend to make, it would be interesting to know whether the French Government have intimated any claims which they intend to make.
Next, I draw the attention of the House to the position of the Government during their period of office in approaching the problem of the increasing size of tankers and the risk of pollution. There were five major cases of pollution during the last two years, three as a result of collision and accident. I could list them but will not. We also know that there was an official report that oil pollution round the coasts of Great Britain in 1966 was the worst for many years.
What had happened? Perhaps I may remind the House of some of the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Nott), the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Bessell) and others. On 1st March, 1966, my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Mr. Braine) raised this very question and asked how local authorities could be helped. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government replied. All that he was prepared to say, was that his Department could co-ordinate views but did not pledge itself to any action. The Government stuck solidly to that when the matter was raised again in the debate on the Local Government Bill in July, 1966, and again, as my hon. Friend for Chichester (Mr. Loveys) has pointed out, on 6th February this year. There were three separate Parliamentary occasions, in addition to correspondence, when the matter was raised but the Government flatly refused to do anything, either to promise help to local government or to do anything else.
In view of the answer given on 6th February about there being no power to make grants, may I ask whether legislation will now be necessary retrospectively to pay the grants which have so far been promised by the Government, who only a month or two ago said that they did not have any power to make grants and did not intend to ask for any powers?
The control of routes has been raised by my hon. Friends the Members for Poole (Mr. Murton), Honiton (Mr. Emery) and Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers). This is not at all an easy question. There is much to be said for leaving masters a discretion in navigation, particularly when hazards of weather and tide may affect them. Perhaps, however, it would be possible for the Government to say whether, in crowded zones such as the Dover Channel, Land's End and other crowded parts of the sea, they might not impose control.
I remind the Government of something else. The real risk of collision is in narrow waters, channels and approaches to harbours. In June, 1964, the Harbours Act was passed, giving Ministers power to make control of movement orders covering approaches to harbours, but not one order has been made under that Act since the Government came to power.
There are many other questions that I should like to raise, but I promised that the Minister shall have 35 minutes in which to reply and I hope to fulfil that promise. I should, however, like to raise the question of international law. The Government have not indicated their thinking about how they should seek to amend either our municipal or international law. We should try to strengthen the International Convention Against Pollution, which does not deal with the accidental discharge of oil or with wreck or collision. There are many other lacunae, although I will not dwell on them now, but I hope that the Government will undertake to go further and try to promote an international agreement and introduce national legislation to deal with the legal problems of the discharge of noxious substances. I.M.C.O. is probably not the right body. No doubt another convention on the law of the sea will be necessary.
I wish to indicate the sort of convention which, broadly speaking, I hope the Government will consider. First, it should deal with oil, chemicals, liquid gas and other noxious substances, much on the lines of the convention dealing with nuclear discharges. Secondly, there should be absolute liability on the part of shipowners for discharge, whether on the high seas or in territorial waters, including consequential damage. Thirdly, there should be compulsory insurance against these liabilities, with a right of recourse above a certain level—since very large sums may be involved—to international and to national funds.
Fourthly, there should be no limit of liability, or a very substantial limit, for the discharge of oil and other noxious substances. Fifthly, there should be extended prohibited zones for discharge, beyond the present limited zones of pollution. Sixthly, there should be the right to mitigate or remove, in all cases of a threatened nuisance, the source of contamination by the nation that is threatened and where serious or extensive damage is apprehended. Seventhly, there must be a great improvement in remedies and the enforcement of rights. The question of insurance and the right to an effective remedy is something that we must see is available to all those who are bound to suffer in future from what is certain to recur; namely, accidents and collisions.
We shall have to return to this topic. We rely very much on the Select Committee, but over the years there will be many occasions when we shall have to return time and again to this subject. We can only be grateful that the Government have agreed to remit the matter to the Select Committee. We can now begin, and continue, the battle to keep our coasts clear and to prevent nature from becoming befouled by man.
I extend my sympathy to the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe) for not having been able to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker. Throughout the emergency he was one of the most helpful and assiduous hon. Members in the West Country. I hope that his constituents will not hold it against him that he has not had the privilege of taking part in the debate, because he stood up for their interests with both courtesy and industry.
My hon. Friends and I expected that well deserved tributes would be paid to the Armed Services, local authorities and other public authorities for the really magnificent work they did during this very difficult period. I wish to associate Her Majesty's Government once again with what has been said in praise of everything that they did.
I do not believe that my hon. Friends anticipated that so many hon. Gentlemen opposite would say such kind things about my colleagues and myself. Indeed, almost the only touch of vinegar was introduced by the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir Keith Joseph), who opened the debate many hours ago. I thought that the right hon. Gentleman was getting on to rather dangerous ground when he put his four points about the Select Committee on Science and Technology because, as his right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Sir J. Hobson) pointed out, it is for the Select Committee itself to decide how it conducts its proceedings within its terms of reference.
The Committee's terms of reference were laid down by this House on 14th December, 1966. If the Committee wants to reinforce its staff or wishes its membership to be reinforced, the Government will certainly be prepared to do everything possible to help, because we realise the magnitude of the task the Committee is undertaking, and we wish to do everything possible to be of assistance. But it is for the Committee to decide whether it wants to summon witnesses, call for papers or sit in public. It would be wrong for us to indicate how we think it should arrange that side of its activities.
However, it would be wrong if we were to give the impression that, in the view of the Government, it would be part of the reference to the Committee which the House is making today for it to go into the state of the law and consider subjects like flags of convenience. Those do not seem to us to be subjects which come naturally within the scope of a Select Committee on Science and Technology. I think that I should certainly disabuse the House of any idea that we see the work of the Select Committee as being an inquest on what has taken place in the past. The wording of the Motion is that we should
refer to the Select Committee … the question of future measures against the pollution of our shores in the light of the experience gained from the wreck of the 'Torrey Canyon'.
It is not an occasion, I hope, when the Select Committee will ask why something
was done on Wednesday instead of on Tuesday, or on Thursday instead of on Friday. If the House wants to hold an inquest, it can hold an inquest today. If the Opposition are dissatisfied with the account that we have given of our stewardship during the period, they can force the Motion to a Division and express disagreement with the action that the Government have taken.
Does the Minister agree that it is he now who is trying to lay down what the Committee shall or shall not do? Does the Minister agree that if the Committee wishes to draw lessons for the future from the past, as is implied in the Motion, it will be free to ask any question it wishes about the conduct of the Government or the information available to the Government during the whole of this episode?
Certainly, if they are relevant to the issue. What I was pointing out was that the Motion, which I understand the Opposition are going to ask us to accept tonight, refers to
future measures against the pollution of our shores in the light of experience.…
I was suggesting that in the terms of the Motion the Select Committee might find it better to concentrate upon the future steps which can be taken rather than conduct an inquest into what has already taken place, which I think we have had in the course of the debate today.
The right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East and other hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Honiton (Mr. Emery), complained that there was a certain lack of speed on the part of Her Majesty's Government. On the other hand, the right hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Bessell), who was much closer than the right hon. Member to the operation, complimented us on the speed at which we had worked and on what he called on an earlier occasion the dynamic action which had been taken.
When the right hon. Gentleman complained of lack of activity it is only right to point out that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy flew down to Plymouth on Sunday, 19th March and had discussions with the Service Chiefs and the Principal Regional Officer of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, and on the following day he had a meeting with the Cornish maritime authorities. On the same day our own senior engineer inspectors from the Ministry arrived in Plymouth, and on the Tuesday the Ministry of Housing and Local Government asked the Cornish authorities for details of manpower available, resources and equipment, and a priority list of beaches. That was the beginning of a series of meetings with the local authorities when they were kept fully in the picture and when written information was given to them.
The hon. Member for Honiton was once again critical of the speed of action in the case of Devon. He should know that it was on Wednesday, 22nd March, that arrangements were put in hand for collecting from the Devon authorities information about equipment and manpower. On Saturday, 25th March, officials of my own Ministry held preliminary meetings with the Devon maritime authorities. On Sunday, 26th March, the information asked for was collected. On the Monday there was a demonstration of equipment for the Devon local authorities. On Tuesday, 28th March, I met the Clerk of the Devon County Council, and on Wednesday I met the elected representatives and officers of the Devon maritime authorities.
It is very difficult to suggest that any Ministers or Ministries could have worked more quickly than we did in respect both of Devon and of Cornwall, giving Cornwall priority because Cornwall was and still is the only county affected by oil pollution. We also made provision for finance. By the Sunday night £500,000 had been promised to deal with the emergency. We gave the local authorities an undertaking that we would pay a grant of 75 per cent. of the necessary costs which they incurred and that if they were still left with something more than a 2d. rate we would give them an additional grant.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington asked what power we had to make this financial contribution. The answer to that is that we have no statutory power. We took emergency action which I think the House will thing was right. We shall in due course have to ask for a Supplementary Estimate, and we shall have to ask the House to approve the Supplementary Estimate and its inclusion in an Appropriation Bill.
When the oil started coming ashore it became clear that this was a combined operation and that civil decisions were having to be taken by a Navy Minister and by commanding officers whom it was unfair to ask to take decisions of this kind. That was when my Ministry became closely involved, working under the committee of the Cabinet presided over by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. The job of my colleagues and myself was to take decisions on the spot without trespassing on the proper functions of the local authorities.
We had our headquarters at Plymouth where we had the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, our administrators and our specialists, including scientists, working closely with the committee presided over by Sir Solly Zuckerman, and we had our engineers in Plymouth, Truro and Exeter. At the two forward posts in Truro and Exeter we had administrative, engineering and liaison officers whose job it was to keep in close contact with the county and county district councils and the other public services and the military commanders. Their main task was to co-ordinate the operations, to decide priorities, and to transmit the decisions to the Services to carry them out.
Another of the important tasks which they had—I think this was most important —was to maintain morale in extremely difficult circumstances. One of the tasks which we set ourselves was to counter alarmism. We therefore arranged for the supplying of reliable information about the state of beaches and the progress of the operations, because exaggerated reports at that time could have produced either defeatism on the one hand or over-confidence on the other. I would like to thank hon. Members from the West Country for the help which they gave in preserving the long-term interests of the people of Devon and of Cornwall.
I am happy to tell my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen), who referred to the question of further publicity for the area, that the Government have agreed to make an additional grant to the Tourist Board in order to publicise the attractions of the West Country.
In the event I think our confidence was justified, and the combination of offshore and onshore activity, which resulted from cool deliberation and calm assessment, averted what could have been a much graver disaster. The hon. Gentleman the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Nott) and the hon. Gentleman the Member for Chichester (Mr. Loveys) spoke about an error of judgment on our part and said we had been culpably wrong. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Bodmin, on the the other hand, said we were right to do what we did. I do not think that anybody who bore the responsibility which a few of us did over the Easter weekend could fail to look back to review the decisions. We have asked ourselves whether we were right. I have done so. My right hon. Friend has done so. Certainly there is no doubt in our minds that the action which we took was right.
Hon. Gentlemen have questioned the use of the phrase that we were
not inhibited by financial or legal considerations".
I want to assure my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton that that does not mean that we contemplated action which would have been a breach of international law. If we had taken action against the "Torrey Canyon" before we did it would have been justifiable under international law. But what we mean by that statement, that we were not inhibited by financial or legal considerations, is that it was not considerations of law or finance which stopped us taking action which we believed to be necessary.
We did not set fire to or bomb the ship for one quite simple reason, and that was that the only certain way to minimise the pollution was to tow the ship and what remained of its cargo as far away as possible. There was no conflict of interest between the salvors and the Government so long as the possibility of salvage remained, and so long as there was any hope of doing so the interests of the Government and the salvors coincided. I can assure my hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne that the Government certainly did not delay out of any consideration for the salvage company.
It means that the salvors were quite satisfied that they would be able to raise the ship from the rocks on which it was at that stage impaled. The question of what the salvors were going to do afterwards does not arise. So long as there was a possibility of salvage the interests of the salvors and the Government coincided. Our job was not to take action the success of which could not have been guaranteed and which might well have produced much worse pollution of the sea than was the case at that stage.
No, I cannot give way. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has already run into my time. I have given way, and am prepared to give way to other hon. Members when I have had an opportunity of answering some of the questions that have been put to me.
The risks of the action which could have been taken in respect of the "Torrey Canyon", whether in respect of firing or pumping or bombing, were very great, as I think the hon. Member for St. Ives appreciated.
The hon. Member for Bodmin asked me for the name of the tanker, to which reference has been made, which burnt in the Persian Gulf in August, 1966. It was the "British Crown". It caught fire by accident. At the end of two months the fire had destroyed only a portion of the cargo, and considerable pollution of the shore resulted from the fire.
As I was saying, the risks of the action were very great indeed. The Chairman of the West Penwith Rural District Council, a most admirable public representative, told me of a Cornish proverb which says that everybody knows what to do with a kicking horse except the chap who is in charge of it, and there has been a good deal of that in what some hon. Members have been saying today. But I am sure that we were wise to rely upon the skill of the Royal Navy and what is probably the best salvage company in Europe rather than the advice of those further from the operation. It is not only very easy to give advice retrospectively, as hon. Gentlemen have admitted, but it is also very easy to give advice from a distance, particularly if one does not have to carry it out.
We had to act knowing the risks to life. Already the Dutch captain of the tug had been killed. In reply to the hon. Member for Poole (Mr. Murton) and others, it is not known what the cause of his death was. It could have been because of petroleum vapour or because of compressed air or because of a combination of the two, but there is certainly no precise knowledge of the cause of his death. But we had to act knowing the risks to life, and knowing the threat to the beaches in the conditions which then obtained. Nobody who saw the "Torrey Canyon" a few hours before it broke up will ever forget the force of the storms which were beating against it at that time.
Just as I am certain that our overall policy was right, so I am certain that nobody could have done more than the Services or the public authorities. The two county councils were extremely efficient and conscientious; they, with the district councils under them, did a fine job. I endorse particularly what the hon. Lady said about the police, the fire services from all over the country, and river authorities and civil defence. I should add that the chairmen of both county councils expressed to me their appreciation of what the Government had done to help.
Apart from destroying the oil in the ship—and it is estimated that about 40,000 tons was destroyed when the ship was set on fire—
Is the right hon. Gentleman answering the question put to him by saying that all the oil in the ship was destroyed and not just the top particles? Was the sludge left? I am trying to ask a technical question without full knowledge. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman can give me a layman's answer. Is there a lot of sludge left in the ship?
We believe that that is not the case, and that there was a pretty good cleaning away of the oil in the vessel. It has not been possible to make a full inspection yet, but that is the view of those who have made preliminary inspections of what is left.
The three steps we had to take when oil was coming ashore were, first, to use detergents at sea. The hon. Member for Honiton, asked whether we had approved lists, and whether they had been appraised by scientists. We did not have approved lists. Six different kinds of detergent were used, and all were tested either before the operation or in the early stages of the operation. They were tested by the naval experts and other scientists we had available in Plymouth. On the whole, the effect of spraying at sea was satisfactory. Certainly, combined with the natural effects of wind and water, it helped to mitigate the effect of the oil. The effect of spraying on the sea was to mitigate the pollution of the beaches themselves.
We had to be very careful not to overdo the spraying at sea, especially in view of certain alarmist articles which had been written, one of which, because of a miscalculation, exaggerated by a factor of nearly 2,000 times the concentration of detergent in the sea. I am sorry that the newspaper concerned has not yet retracted, and has merely complimented us upon having gone through our calculations once again.
The best scientific advice we had at the beginning was that the effect on marine life was not likely to be great, and subsequent surveys have confirmed that impression. Nevertheless, we took great care to discontinue spraying by naval vessels as soon as the situation justified it. Secondly, we had to use detergents on the beaches. With a few exceptions this has been remarkably successful. I confess, however, that in the case of some beaches there is a tendency for the oil to sink in. We have not yet got on top of that problem. We have been carrying out experiments in some areas, but we do not yet know the final answer and a good deal more research will be necessary. Rather longer-term treatment is needed than we had originally hoped. On Friday I sent out a circular to local authorities warning them against the overuse of detergents in these circumstances.
The third precaution that we had to take was in respect of booms. There we were in some difficulty. We did not want to discourage local authorities who wanted to go ahead, but booms raise a number of problems. Most of the booms available had very little freeboard. Length is also a factor of considerable importance. Generally speaking, booms are not suitable where there is a tide of more than 3½knots at the outside, and the optimum speed of the tide is perhaps 2½ knots. There was no certainty as to the best type of protective materials to use on the booms.
The hon. Member for Poole raised the case of the boom in Poole Harbour. That broke away because of the speed of the tide and also because of the length of boom required. In Falmouth the boom originally intended for the "Torrey Canyon" broke from its moorings. I should like to make the position clear, because the White Paper may unwittingly have done an injustice in its reference to the "Torrey Canyon" boom, giving the impression that the plastic sections themselves did not stand up to the conditions which existed. In fact, what happened was that the couplings between the plastic sections came apart. We have no complaint against the firm —Aeropreen—which was responsible for producing the boom and whose staff worked over the Easter weekend in order to get the boom made and placed in position. If, therefore, I can clear up any misunderstanding which might have been caused, I am only too delighted to do so.
But because of the various difficulties that arose with booms, we set up a group of experts at Plymouth which, with the Royal Navy at Bath, could advise on the feasibility of using booms. In the outcome, all areas of Cornwall which needed booms received them, although only three had to stand up to oil pollution. All places in Devonshire which wanted booms could have had them at 36 hours' notice. So, we did all that we could practicably do to help the local authorities, not only with detergents—and about a million gallons have been used—but also with the provision of booms, with Army, Navy, and other personnel, and so on.
We have done all that could be done, but, of course, some oil pollution will continue. There is only a very small amount at sea now, but there are some areas of oil in the rocky inlets. Some areas may get pollution from neighbouring coves or bays, and I suppose that nobody can say how long that will continue; but we are on top of the problem and local authorities have achieved a remarkable degree of success.
The hon. Lady the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) referred to the further use of Service manpower, as well as the testing of various types of detergent. These are matters under discussion and, so far as the Services are concerned, we should hope to solve the problem within the next few days. We naturally appreciate the difficulties of the Services, but are also aware of the difficulties facing local authorities.
As the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington said, there will be further hazards of this kind. It is a disturbing thought that a tanker twice the size of the "Torrey Canyon" is due in Bantry Bay in a few days' time, and there are other hazards to which he referred. We are not forgetting any of them; nuclear-powered ships, and cargoes about which he knows much more than I do.
So far as the legal position is concerned, we are not absolutely clear at the moment. The right hon. and learned Gentleman spoke of the last Convention on oil pollution and this was signed at the time of the previous Administration. I seek to make no political point at all about that, but the Convention is not wholly adequate now and perhaps the time has come for international discussions with a view to securing a change. The Government have, therefore, started talks through the Foreign Office, and have a formal observer at the informal Liberian inquiry which is going on.
I cannot answer that at the moment. It has so far been an informal inquiry. We are pressing for a more formal meeting which would be of the type more likely to produce the sort of report I think the right hon. and learned Gentleman has in mind.
So far as our own domestic law is concerned, hon. Members will recall the statements of the Prime Minister, the Attorney-General, and others of my right hon. Friends, and I do not think that I could usefully add tonight to what they have already said.
I conclude by saying that we have learned a great deal—
That is one of the most trivial interventions I have ever heard from either Front Bench in 21 years in the House. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will note that his hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) has a Question down on Wednesday to the Secretary of State for Defence, to ask to what reasons he ascribes the recent eight-week period of westerly winds over this country, one of the longest periods in recorded meteorological history.
The right hon. Gentleman has wasted enough of the time of the House already in seeking to make political capital out of what might have been a national disaster.
We have learned a great deal from this experience. We now know the kind of administrative machinery which is required. We have still to decide in what parts of the country it shall be sited. There is the need for combining speed and economy, and we have also to work out for how long the immediate steps will be necessary.
We now know much more than we did about what technical measures are effective. Research and planning has to continue. We are having discussions with the oil interests and through the working party which we have with the Institute of Petroleum about oil pollution of beaches and about the removal of oil pollution at sea. The information which we obtain will be made generally available, and France will certainly be able to benefit from it. I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will be glad to know that we have had a letter from the Secretary of State for Transportation in the French Government thanking us for the great help which my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Navy was able to give to the French in this emergency. Naturally, we shall make available to the Select Committee on Science and Technology the information which comes to us.
On this occasion, we have overcome adversity, partly through Government initiative, but also through the loyalty and tenacity of the Services and through the grit and determination of the people of the West Country. We are fortunate to have emerged as successfully as we have. I ask the House to endorse the While Paper statement on what has been achieved and the course of action proposed, that is, that the Select Committee be invited to consider future policy in the light of our experience.
Will the right hon. Gentleman answer one question, a serious question which was put by four hon. Members on this side, about shipping off our shores and the need to do something without waiting for an international order? Do the Government intend to do something about shipping in congested lanes?
That this House approves the White Paper on the "Torrey Canyon" (Command Paper No. 3246), endorses the actions taken by Her Majesty's Government and resolves to refer to the Select Committee on Science and Technology the question of future measures against the pollution of our shores in the light of the experience gained from the wreck of the "Torrey Canyon".