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Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, the House will remember the tragic disaster earlier this year when an inappropriately named oil tanker—"Prestige"—was obliged to leave Spanish coastal waters. As a result it sank in the open ocean with disastrous consequences across Spanish and French coasts over a very wide area. What plans have the Government put in place since that time to ensure that such a disaster could not occur in British waters?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, as regards pollution from shipping, the Government have been very active in the EU Environment Council and the EU Transport Council and in the International Maritime Organisation to achieve tighter rules and environmental standards for shipping. In the UK, we have also established a pollution control zone consistent with the provisions of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea which extends up to 200 nautical miles from our coast. The UK Government are in the position of prosecuting the owner of any ship suspected of committing a pollution offence within that 200-mile zone.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, is the Minister aware of the delight with which the decision to cease the discharge of nuclear waste—particularly Technetium-99—was received in Norway when the Secretary of State gave an instruction to Sellafield that those emissions should stop? Is he further aware of how important Norway regards this in respect of the preservation of its fishing stocks?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, without necessarily accepting the totality of the Norwegian Government's

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position, we have instructed BNFL to stop such discharges for a period while further research and development is carried out. I am pleased that the Norwegian Government appreciate that gesture.

Lord Maclennan of Rogart: My Lords, has the Minister noticed that the Convention on the Future of Europe has unwisely purported to translate a provision of the European Court of Justice into a constitutional provision giving exclusive competence over marine biodiversity in Union waters to the Union? Will he, and other members of the Government, seek to ensure that this is a shared responsibility enabling coastal states to take action of which they are capable and in which they are interested?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I am aware of that interpretation of the convention. Our understanding of the meaning of the convention is that it does not change the boundary of competencies between the European Union institutions and member states.

Lord Glentoran: My Lords—

Lord Berkeley: My Lords—

Lord Grocott: My Lords, we have time for both.

Lord Glentoran: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord. Is the Minister aware that members of the population of Ireland—both North and South and on the east coast in particular—still believe that the Irish Sea is seriously contaminated from the nuclear station at Sellafield and happenings there?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, at times I have been made extremely aware of the view of the Irish population, both North and South. However, on this issue, the Irish Government brought a legal case which the British Government won.

Lord Berkeley: My Lords, while I welcome the 200-mile zone mentioned by my noble friend, if two tankers were to collide outside this country's territorial limits but within the 200-mile zone, am I right in thinking that a prosecution could be brought only in the countries of registration of the ships concerned, which could be, for example, Liberia?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I shall probably need to consult my noble and learned friend on the precise answer to my noble friend's question. My understanding of the position is that we could prosecute for the pollution so caused, but the question of any failure of seamanship would normally revert to the flag country. However, if my noble friend will be patient, I shall write to him to clarify the position.

Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, does the Minister think that the Government's plans to build vast windmills at sea will improve the marine

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environment? If not, what steps are the Government taking to ensure that the marine environment is not polluted?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, the decision of the Government to invest substantially in wind power marks a major step towards further protecting the environment as a whole from, in particular, climate change and carbon emissions damage. Therefore that investment will be of very substantial benefit to the environment. However, when identifying particular sites on which to locate wind farms, obviously it is important that we minimise any effect on the marine environment.

Survey of National Infrastructure

2.51 p.m.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they last conducted a survey of the national infrastructure; and whether they will consider the appointment of a chief government engineer to ensure that there is a co-ordinated, long-term and sustainable approach to its renewal.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville): My Lords, the Government are committed to providing a sustainable public sector infrastructure to ensure the delivery of high quality public services and are substantially increasing public sector net investment to a planned level of 2 per cent of GDP by 2005–06. The UK's national infrastructure covers areas as diverse as energy, water and flood management, transport and waste. In many of these sectors the assets are owned by private companies. The Government do not believe that it would be desirable to give responsibility for these diverse sectors to a chief government engineer or to conduct a national survey of infrastructure because it would add nothing to current monitoring and enforcement activities.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer, not least because on the previous occasion when this matter was raised in Parliament—four years ago in another place—that Minister ran out of time before he could respond.

Has the Minister read the admirable report entitled The State of the Nation 2003 prepared by the Institution of Civil Engineers? It gives a detailed report on the various parts of the infrastructure and stresses the need for an overall government approach to be taken to it. Does the Minister really think what he said in his Answer will ensure that the shortcomings revealed in this report will be put right in the near future?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I have read the report from the Institution of Civil Engineers because I responded to a Question on it on Monday. I

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thought that I had better read it, whereas normally I might not have done so. The question of a national survey is raised in the report but, as I have said, I do not think that such a survey would do any good in terms of dealing with any defects we have in this area. Moreover, having read the report, I cannot see any arguments put forward which would make me change my view.

To my way of thinking, there is nothing to be said for trying to co-ordinate the infrastructure on gas with water or, say, telecommunications with transport. These are completely different sectors and so nothing would be gained from a total survey other than more delays and bureaucracy.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, does the noble Lord realise that his response has given a great deal of pleasure in so far as it indicates that the Government have decided—remarkably—not to increase the amount of bureaucracy when asked whether they would like to do so?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I am delighted as always to give the noble Earl pleasure in this or in any other area of argument.

Lord Berkeley: My Lords, what happened to the plan discussed a few years ago to map every street for gas, water and electricity supplies, which would have been a most wonderful piece of bureaucracy? Did not the government of the day decide that the exercise would be too expensive? Is it necessary today, or do all the infrastructure companies dig up the roads in the right place, at the right time, and to the maximum convenience of road users?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, any information that exists on that is so deeply buried in the bureaucracy that it has not come to my attention.

Lord Ezra: My Lords, does not the noble Lord agree that, even though the Government have decided that they would not wish to proceed with the appointment of a chief government engineer, as suggested by the Institution of Civil Engineers, nevertheless they should consider whether there should be some greater co-ordination of infrastructure development? For example, have they considered the success of the French Commissariat du Plan which, over the years, has delivered so much to the French infrastructure? Should we not learn from the experience of others?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, the thrust of the argument set out in the report from the Institution of Civil Engineers was that if a chief government engineer was appointed, all these questions could be taken out of politics and decided on the basis of independent expert advice. Having dealt with Questions in this House on matters such as energy, I am very sceptical whether an independent government engineer could in some way resolve the many issues we have to consider politically, such as different forms of

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energy or road transport funding. I do not think that such matters can be taken out of political decision-making or, indeed, out of the overall economic framework. Therefore I do not think that this would be productive.

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