Shetlands (MV Braer Incident)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:25 pm on 11th January 1993.

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Photo of Mr Ian Lang Mr Ian Lang , Galloway and Upper Nithsdale 4:25 pm, 11th January 1993

I fear that the hon. Gentleman's opening remarks about complacency and confusion fall below the actual record of events. I suggest that perhaps he, too, should visit Shetland where he will see that all those involved, including the Scottish Office, which has sent more than 20 officials, other Departments' officials, voluntary bodies, local government and other organisations are working together efficiently and with complete dedication to repair the damage that has been caused in Shetland and to minimise the risk. The hon. Gentleman's opening remarks were completely misplaced.

On the question of the immediate disadvantages faced by the people of Shetland, it was precisely with the interests of those people in mind and the difficulties that can arise as a result of economic hardship and cashflow problems in the short term—before people are able to secure settlement of insurance claims—that I decided to establish the bridging fund that I announced today. An office has already been established in Shetland to manage that compensation fund and the insurers have already advanced £200,000 to the Shetland Islands council to meet immediate, interim and short-term problems on account. The Shetlands Islands council has also made funds available to the agricultural sector. The European Community, through Commissioner Paleokrassas, has already made emergency aid available and it is having discussions with my Department about possible further aid. When one takes into account all those factors, one can see that resources are being brought to bear as needed and that procedures for clearing up this damaging environmental incident will not be in any way inhibited by lack of funds.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of Stale for Transport dealt with the routing of tankers in his statement. I understand why the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish) was delayed by travel problems and was unable to get to the Chamber in time to hear that statement.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that health is an immensely important aspect of the incident. I underline the importance that we attach to the careful monitoring that is now taking place. That monitoring involves a number of individuals with considerable expertise and access to high-quality advice on toxicological matters. That monitoring will continue for some considerable time and clear advice will be given to the people of Shetland as to how to respond to events.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport also dealt with dispersants. It is worth repeating that today's statement from the director of the Shetland Islands council environmental services, the director of marine pollution control, the director of the Scottish environmental health unit and the director of public health for Shetland indicated that the dispersant, if used according to correct methods, meant that the risk to the public is so low as not to be measurable". That helps to put the issue into perspective.