The arrangements for dealing with oil spills at sea or on the shore, whether they come from tanker collisions or from any other source, are kept under constant review. In the context of this on-going review, I refer the hon. Gentleman to the announcement about oil pollution measures made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade on 23 February.
Does the Minister agree that there are not sufficient tugs of sufficient size in the area to pull 300,000-ton tankers should they get stranded? Some of these tugs are as much as 36 hours steaming time away, on the Continent. A great deal of damage can be done to areas around our coasts if proper emergency facilities are not available. Will the Minister show some sense of urgency and go to the areas concerned, particularly Shetland, to see the tremendous damage being done to areas by oil pollution of all kinds?
As regards the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question, we are prepared to keep an open mind on this whole issue. Tomorrow, a working group, under Department of Trade leadership, is due to meet in Aberdeen primarily to consider safety of navigation around the Shetlands. Orkney Islands Council will participate, and tanker routes throughout Scotland, including The Minch, will be discussed. The Scottish Office will also be represented. Next Monday there is to be a seminar, which is widely known about, to discuss the whole question of pollution by oil around our coasts. I hope to be taking part, together with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade
Will the Minister accept that, as the Clyde pilots have pointed out, it is unnecessary for the supertankers to go through The Minch at all? By going through The Minch they are subject to unnecessary hazards and are a tremendous threat to a valuable coastline. Will he consider banning tankers from that area?
As I indicated in my previous response, this is a matter which will be discussed by the working party which meets in Aberdeen tomorrow. I have no doubt that my hon. Friend's views will be taken into account during those considerations.
I have been in correspondence with Ministers on numerous matters relating to pollution. Will the Scottish Office make a special effort in one direction? There are still hundreds, possibly thousands, of wretched sheep in the Shetlands covered in thick black oil. With the lambing season coming on, this is a serious situation. If the Scottish Office can do anything to find ways to clean the sheep, such a move will be a great help.
I know of the representations made by the right hon. Gentleman. My right hon. Friend is writing to the right hon. Gentleman about some of these matters today. My right hon. Friend will also be writing to him at the earliest opportunity about other associated matters. My right hon. Friend will in due course respond in correspondence on this issue of the sheep.
Has the Minister's attention been drawn to a list recently published by Lloyd's indicating that 1,400,000 tons of shipping were lost at sea last year? That is an increase of almost 40 per cent. on the previous year. Many of the losses were tankers. By contacting Lloyd's my right hon. Friend would, I am sure, gain some practical indication of how this matter can be com- bated The problem is becoming worse. In addition to the losses at sea, there was the Bantry Bay explosion—the sort of thing that could occur in other parts of the country. Will my right hon. Friend get in touch with Lloyd's to obtain some practical information on how incidents can be prevented?
Is the Minister aware that some of the trouble seems to have been caused by the unauthorised discharge of oil by tankers in Scottish waters? Will he contact his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence in order to step up the patrolling of areas where tankers are likely to be working, at least as a deterrent against this most objectionable practice?
Just before I came to the House today I discussed this matter with my colleagues at the Department of Trade. I have been assured that all aircraft flying over the area most affected are obliged to report any incidents. We can be assured on that matter. There is certainly a difficulty about people dumping stuff that ought not to be dumped. I stress that it is illegal. If we catch these people, which is always a problem, they will certainly be punished.