I welcome the new clauses as an opportunity to raise important issues relating to salvage tug capacity around the United Kingdom. This gap in our marine pollution prevention measures was identified in the Donaldson report. I echo the request for confirmation that, at the very least, the three tugs that have operated in the winter months recently in Dover, Stornoway and Falmouth will continue.
My concern relates to the presence of adequate salvage tug capacity in the waters around Orkney and Shetland. The Minister knows that I have taken the matter up often. On 11 December, I was fortunate in being able to raise the matter in an Adjournment debate in the Scottish Grand Committee. I do not propose to repeat the points that I made, which are still relevant.
In Committee, when my hon. Friend the Member for Truro (Mr. Taylor) spoke of the need for salvage capacity around Orkney and Shetland, he received a reply that has become familiar. The Minister said:
Both the Donaldson report and the Belton report on tugs referred to the waters there as being of secondary risk—that is their definition, not mine."—[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 4 March 1997; c. 116.]
I must accept that, but the Department of Transport has not addressed the fact that while Captain Belton's emergency towing study team's report, which was commissioned by the Coastguard, found that in general it was a secondary danger area, it also found that there was a particularly high risk during the winter months. That is self-evident to those of us who live there.
Captain Belton's study team recommended that the area should be provided with emergency towing vessel cover from the beginning of October until the end of March. The debate gives the Minister an opportunity to respond to that and to update the House on what the Minister of State, Scottish Office told me. He said:
The Coastguard Agency has been in correspondence with commercial enterprises in Shetland to consider possible joint arrangements in the provision of emergency towing, and how these might be of benefit. The discussion will continue, but without commitment at this stage."—[Official Report, Scottish Grand Committee, 11 December 1996; c. 47.]
I would welcome an update on any discussions that have taken place with private commercial enterprises in Shetland. The Minister could also comment on the fact that,
in its evidence to the Donaldson inquiry, the harbours department of Orkney Islands council displayed a willingness to discuss partnerships to ensure that adequate salvage capacity—not the capacity already there, with tugs doing harbour jobs in both Scapa Flow and Sullom Voe—would be available as a joint venture in Orkney as well.