§ Sir Charles Taylor (by Private Notice) asked whether the Minister of Housing and Local Government will make a statement on the wreck of the "Sitakund", off Eastbourne?
§ The Minister of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Anthony Greenwood)
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence has sent his Chief Salvage Officer to Eastbourne to assess the situation and to report. If reports show there to be a danger to life and property ashore my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department will, in consultation with other Ministers, take steps to deal with it.
If, as now seems likely, there is no danger to life or property ashore, I understand that it is primarily a matter for the owners and the owners' agents to decide what should be done. A conference is being held today in Eastbourne between the various authorities and interests 1092 involved to consider what action should be taken.
My Department has been in touch with the East Sussex County Council. The view held locally is that there is small risk of oil pollution at present. Nevertheless, preparations have been made to deal with pollution should it occur.
I should like to take this opportunity of paying tribute to the great courage of many of those involved.
§ Sir C. Taylor
I thank the Minister for his reply. Who is to be responsible for cleaning up the oil, because the latest reports are that oil is leaking? Who will pay the bill? I hope that none of the bill will fall on the ratepayers of my constituency. Who is responsible for compensation, should there be an explosion causing damage to persons and property? Who will be responsible for the removal of the wreck? Who gave permission—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. Even on Private Notice Questions supplementary questions should be reasonably brief.
§ Sir C. Taylor
I am keeping it as short as I can, Mr. Speaker, but this is extremely important to my constituency.
Who gave permission for the ship to be grounded in such a dangerous position? How long will she stay? Will the Minister go further than he has in his Answer and institute an inquiry into this and other matters?
§ Mr. Greenwood
The Eastbourne Council and the East Sussex County Council are extremely experienced and efficient in the matter of cleaning up oil. They have at their disposal Circular 34/68, which we issued on this subject only two or three months ago. [Laughter.] That is a remarkable reaction on the part of the Opposition. This was a circular issued at the request of local authorities. It has been generally welcomed and it goes on to outline the financial provisions involved.
As to removing the wreck, a conference is going on in Eastbourne today between the various interests involved. I think that we had better wait to see what they decide about the feasibility of removing the wreck before we are too specific about the responsibility.
1093 Compensation for any explosion is a subject which I would sooner come to if it proves to be necessary, but our expert advice is that there is very little likelihood of an explosion taking place.
I cannot say at the moment who gave permission for the ship to be grounded. Questions of safety at sea are for my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade. Questions about movements of British Railways tugs are for my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport. As soon as I have information on this, I will let the hon. Gentleman know.
§ Sir W. Teeling
The Minister keeps on talking about the East Sussex County Council and the Eastbourne Council. There is also the Brighton Council. My town clerk has already today rung up twice to say that quite a lot of oil is drifting already much nearer to Brighton than to Eastbourne and to ask whether the Government will do anything about that and will also bring the Navy in.
§ Mr. Greenwood
I very much doubt whether there is a question of bringing the Navy in to deal with oil pollution. The County Borough Council of Brighton is equally well equipped to deal with any threat from oil. It knows the help that it can get from the Ministry. Neither Eastbourne nor Brighton has had any difficulty in this respect in the past. They know what help can be obtained from the Minister and from other Government Departments.
§ Mr. Palmer
Is my right hon. Friend aware that all these points are covered in the Report of the Select Committee of Science and Technology on Coastal Pollution? Would it not be useful if he now paid some attention to these recommendations?
§ Mr. Greenwood
I am sorry that my hon. Friend takes that line, because we informed the Select Committee of our proposals for dealing with situations of this kind and the Committee took those proposals into account in making its recommendations. There is certainly no question of bruishing this question aside. In due course the Government propose to publish a White Paper on the Report of the Select Committee.