I certainly give credit to the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris), whose private Member's Bill enjoyed all-party support and made considerable improvements in that and other respects. Whether the discharge comes from a tanker or any other vessel, the problem is that it cannot be measured. That is why many people agree that we should be looking for a regime of zero discharges of oily wastes in the long term. The North sea ministerial conference earlier this month made a commitment only to research, rather than to action. It would be helpful if the Minister will show a greater sense of urgency in tackling illegal discharges.
Once there are in place more means of spotting vessels that get into trouble, one must have the means of doing something about it. The Government responded to the Donaldson recommendation to use salvage tugs on an experimental basis, which were positioned in Dover and Stornoway. The trial period is about to end, so it might be premature to ask the Minister for conclusions—although it would be interesting to know whether there have been any preliminary findings.
I regret that it has not been possible to place a salvage tug in northern waters. It is a long way from Stornoway to even where the Braer went aground. Although there is tug capacity at both oil terminals in my constituency, neither has tugs capable of the kind of salvage operation of which the tugs at Dover and Stornoway are capable. The North sea conference made a commitment to greater international co-operation in the provision of salvage capacity. I hope that the northern North sea will be identified as qualifying, given the volume of oil tanker traffic there.
The vessels used in the trial were themselves the subject of some controversy, given that they fly under the flag of some obscure state.