Tourism, Agriculture and the Environment

Part of Bill Presented – in the House of Commons at 12:01 pm on 18th April 1980.

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Photo of Mr Hector Monro Mr Hector Monro , Dumfries 12:01 pm, 18th April 1980

I shall not get into a detailed debate on this issue. I have made clear my strength of feeling—and that of the House—and I hope that that will be borne in mind when decisions are made by local authorities and by the Secretary of State.

I was glad to hear that my hon. Friend the Member for Watford was pleased about the substantial sum of money that has been made available by the Secretary of State for Wales for the promotion of the Welsh language. I am sure that all hon. Members are pleased about that.

In his original remarks, my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North spoke about air rifles, bows and crossbows. I share his concern about the misuse of bows and air weapons against wildlife. Misuse of those weapons nearly always involves commission of an offence under existing legislation. It is, for example an offence to carry any loaded firearm. including an air weapon, in a public place or to trespass with a firearm on private land. It is an offence to sell an air weapon to a person under 17 years of age, or for such a person to buy an air weapon or possess one in a public place, unless it is securely fastened in a gun cover so that it may not be fired.

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is aware of the problems caused by the misuse of air weapons, especially by young people, and is considering ways of reducing the risk to the general public arising from such misuse.

The use of bows and crossbows is not controlled by the firearm legislation, but as with air weapons, misuse usually involves commission of an offence under the Prevention of Crime Act 1953, which prohibits possession in a public place without lawful authority or reasonable excuse, of any offensive weapon. It would undoubtedly be difficult to devise effective new controls on the general use of these weapons. The difficulty and expense of enforcing controls might not be justified by the results. However, the Government have proposals to restrict their use against wild life. These proposals will come within the wildlife and countryside Bill.

I can assure my hon. Friend that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department is considering the issue carefully. I am sure that all hon. Members in the Chamber and all who love wildlife are greatly concerned about reports of the shooting of swans with airguns and the use of crossbows against mammals of any sort.

It is right that I should reply especially to the issues raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North who initiated the debate. He referred to oil pollution under three headings. He expressed his feelings about seeing birds polluted with oil, the impact on children when beaches are coated with oil and, similarly, the impact on visitors. I share fully his concern about the problem nationally and internationally.

The emphasis must be on prevention. The control of operational discharges is regulated by international conventions which are given effect in the United Kingdom by the Prevention of Oil Pollution Act 1971. The Act allows the courts to impose a fine not exceeding £50,000 on summary conviction, which is a pretty high limit, or an unlimited fine on indictment. Current controls will be strengthened and effect will be given to the 1973 international convention on the prevention of pollution from ships, which is modified by the 1978 protocol. The Inter-Governmental Maritime Consultative Organisation has set a target of June 1981. I hope that there will then be much stricter control on what is going on.

My hon. Friend referred rightly to the washing of tanks in ports. We must accept that that is an expensive operation however desirable it may be. My hon Friend is equally concerned about contingency arrangements for oil spills. Under the arrangements for dealing with oil spills at sea the Department of Trade has identified in major ports all round the coast vessels suitable for counter-pollution work, which can be mobilised at short notice. There is a marine pollution control unit within the Department of Trade, which would take charge of operations in the event of a major pollution incident.

Responsibility for dealing with pollution on the beaches rests with the maritime lacal authorities, which have their own contingency plans and their own resources for clean up. Where necessary, the local authorities can draw on additional resources, including the central Government stock pile of specialised anti-oil pollution equipment. There is an office at Bristol that will look after that procedure, where there is a stock pile of special equipment.

The House is aware that the Royal Commission on environmental pollution is studying all aspects of marine oil pollution. We hope that it will come forward with some valuable advice.

The last important issue was raised and taken up by the hon. Member for Cardigan and my hon. Friends the Members for Devon, North and for Kings-wood. The attention of the House was drawn to the generation of power through tidal flow generation and barrages. We all understand the problems that are ahead of us in providing energy in future. However, careful consideration is being given to the barrage scheme, and there will be a report in the not too distant future under the chairmanship of Sir Hermann Bondi. I am sure that it will be a most interesting report.

About 15 years ago I considered with my colleagues a barrage across the Solway for the tidal flow generation of electricity. We considered that project before the oil crisis hit us. The indications were that the expense of the barrage and the drainage problems that it would create meant that it would not be as advantageous as it appeared on first sight.

We have had a most valuable debate. We have covered a tremendously wide area and a large number of subjects. I gladly accept the views set out in the motion. It highlights the wish of all hon. Members and of everyone who lives in Britain—namely, to maintain and enhance what we have and to ensure that the heritage that we pass on to future generations is even better than the one that we inherited years ago.

An immense amount of work is being undertaken by Government and voluntary agencies. I am confident that we shall not let anything slip through the net that will be detrimental in any way to our future and succeeding generations.