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(1) The Secretary of State may appoint, and make provision in relation to the functions and powers of, a marine pollution incident control manager in respect of any specific incident or incidents. (2) Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1) above, the functions of the marine pollution incident control manager shall include the taking, promoting or co-ordinating of measures to reduce and minimise the effects of a specified incident or incidents. (3) In the exercise of the functions conferred by subsection (1) above, the marine pollution incident control manager may ask the Secretary of State to give directions to specified local authorities or to the owner of any ship to or in which an accident has occurred, and the Secretary of State may give such directions if he thinks fit.
Column 554(4) It shall be the duty of any authority or owner to whom such a direction is given to comply with it.'.--[ Mr. Merchant. ]
Brought up, and read the First time.
No. 6, in page 4, line 18, at end insert
(e) the preparation and maintenance of a marine pollution emergency plan in consultation with such shipping and local authority interests as the Secretary of State may consider appropriate.'. No. 7, in page 4, line 18, at end insert
(f) the publication of annual report on marine pollution control which shall be laid before both Houses of Parliament.'
Mr. Merchant : The new clause and amendments are intended not to be hostile to the Bill, but to strengthen it without altering its intention or emphasis. I am most supportive of the Bill and take this opportunity to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris) on piloting it through the House.
I should have liked to speak before in support of the Bill, not because I have a constituency interest--my constituency, like those of many of my hon. Friends, is landlocked--but because it is important that environmental and pollution issues are not categorised into blocs as though they have no effect on other areas. We are all affected by the environment and by pollution, whether at sea or on land, and it is in everyone's interests that the Bill should reach the statute book as quickly as possible.
New clause 2 builds on the spirit of the Bill and particularly on clause 6, which defines the Secretary of State's powers and duties. It emphasises his function of
"taking, or co-ordinating, measures to prevent, reduce and minimise the effects of marine pollution."
It gives him the power to acquire, maintain, use and dispose of ships, aircraft, equipment and other property ; provide necessary research and training ; and liaise with other bodies.
The Secretary of State is not expected to perform those functions personally--to roll up his sleeves, go down to the beach and start scrubbing off oil. [ Hon. Members :-- "Why not ?"] At least, I do not believe that he would. He will not even go to the beach with a team from his private office, but must, to some extent, perform those functions at arm's length.
Mr. Merchant : Yes, no doubt he will send one of his assistants. In practice, the Secretary of State will probably operate through the marine pollution control unit, but there needs to be specific leadership, particularly, as the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent (Ms Walley) mentioned earlier, in the case of severe incidents. The main thrust of new clause 2 is to ensure the absence of any confusion over who should take responsibility and provide leadership in the event of severe incidents. Subsection (1) provides for the appointment of a marine pollution incident control manager--one person specifically charged with responsibility for undertaking the functions and powers given to the Secretary of State. Subsection (2) emphasises the manager's functions in taking and co- ordinating, but also promoting, measures to
Column 555reduce the effects of an incident. That promotion is an important addition in strengthening responsibility and powers.
Subsection (3) concerns liaison with local authorities in particular, because they have an important part to play in pollution incidents. They are on the scene, are responsible for the areas that probably bear the brunt of land pollution and are more likely to be immediately aware of possible dangers and their impact on the community. Clear and effective liaison between the Government and local government is most important and I am not sure that the Bill currently caters for that. Subsection (3) will also meet some of the concerns expressed about the role of local authorities and liaison. Subsection (4) gives the manager the authority to exercise his powers over other parties involved, because, as we all know, a number of different private and public sector organisations necessarily become involved.
Mr. Matthew Banks : Does my hon. Friend agree that if new clause 2 were added, it would be vital that not only local authorities but shipowners were consulted by the control manager ? If an overall view is to be taken in preventing pollution, it is vital that shipowners as well as local authorities play a part.
Mr. Merchant : My hon. Friend draws attention to an important point. When pollution incidents occur, not just local authority and state institutions must be dealt with but private sector organisations--many of which are of an international character. I am glad that the major organisations representing the shipping industry are most supportive of the Bill. I believe that there will be little difficulty in ensuring such liaison, if the will is there--and I believe that it is--provided that the method adopted by the Bill is satisfactory. I am trying to ensure that.
We all know from past incidents that one of the biggest potential problems is delay between the start of the incident and its resolution. The no-cure, no-fee doctrine--which I would not condemn out of hand, because it is in many ways successful--can delay the process by which a pollution incident is resolved. I cite two incidents in particular in which delay had an important and deleterious impact. The first, many years ago, was the Penlee disaster, when arguments over the terms of the salvage delayed dealing with that unfortunate disaster. More recently, the Amoco Cadiz incident is burned in the minds of many of us because of the extensive press coverage that it received. It subsequently became clear that the ship's master had hesitated, even though tugs were present and ready to render assistance. As a result, the problems were severely compounded.
The Lloyd's open form arrangement assisted considerably by allowing for the payment of expenses and a percentage of the ship's value to salvors, and providing for a bonus to be paid to a salvor if best endeavours had been used to prevent oil from escaping from a vessel. However, the operation of that system relied, at least to some extent, on the good will and judgment of the ship's master and that might be somewhat variable, because he has to decide to enter into or sign a Lloyd's open form. The point is that if he delays until the last moment, a ship could easily founder, even if tugs are at hand to give help.
In 1981, the royal commission welcomed the open form, but added :
Column 556"However, we think that the main answer to the problem of dealing with tanker casualties in order to reduce pollution lies in the ability of Government to intervene."
My new clause and related amendments seek to deal with that. My second concern is that of early intervention. It is very important in marine incidents and accidents for the authorities to be able to intervene at an early stage if it becomes clear to them that there is considerable danger. I refer to the beginnings of a leak, which is the most obvious display of potential risk, or, even earlier, loss of power or control over navigational instruments, and so on. That happened in the case of the Braer. In that incident, intervention was reasonably early, but one knows of cases where that did not happen and it is important to ensure that the system is so set up as to make early intervention easy, possible, legal and capable of being carried through.
My third concern is that it is important to ensure that there are enough tugs, salvage vessels and so on ready at hand, or at least available, to deal with potential incidents. That concern was raised during discussion of the Bill. My new clause and amendments seek to ensure that, by planning and doing the necessary back-up, preparation and emergency plan work, the issue is tackled and details kept of vessels that are available, where they are and how they can be brought into operation.
My fourth concern is about direct intervention. Leadership is very important. The Marine Accident Intervention Board drew that to the attention of the Government after the Braer incident. It recommended that there should be delegation to the chief officer of the marine pollution control unit and to someone on the ground at the scene who would have first -hand knowledge of events in what would be extremely tense moments when information has to be available minute by minute. That, specifically, is what I am referring to when I propose that a manager should be appointed to deal, on the scene, with incidents and the problems that flow from them as they arise. If one likes, I am drawing on the board's recommendation.
My fifth concern is that it is important that adequate emergency plans are available in a worked-through, written, properly compiled form. It is really only an extension of the motto, "Be prepared", but local authorities and Government Departments have such emergency plans ready for a range of different, potential disasters. Over the years, after disasters have occurred, report after report has drawn attention to the need for such plans or, if they were absent, to the fact that there were no emergency plans. We should not wait for another disaster, followed by an inquiry, to learn that, had a proper emergency plan been drawn up, rehearsed and so on, with everybody knowing their responsibilities, the disaster would have been minimised. We should put one in place now. My amendments would ensure that that occurs.
I hope that my amendments will solve two other areas of concern, one of which is the problem of overlapping bodies and the lack of co-ordination. As I have mentioned, many organisations are involved and it is very important that they all liaise properly. The other is simple--the state of readiness. It is very easy for readiness to lapse if there has not been an incident for some time or if attention has never been focused on potential problems. I hope that my amendments will ensure that there is a permanent state of preparedness in potential cases of marine pollution.
Column 557The solutions in my amendments aim to give the law a clearer responsibility--or allocate clearer responsibility to individuals, and clearer duties, too, and give a practical application to those. I have spoken at some length about new clause 2. I shall now speak briefly about my other amendments.
Amendment No. 5 simply inserts the word "promoting" to strengthen the practical application of the Bill, to make the Secretary of State's duty more active.
Amendment No. 6 deals with the preparation and maintenance of a marine pollution emergency plan, which should be drawn up in consultation with local authorities and shipping companies and would be ready to put into practice as soon as an incident occurred. Amendment No. 7 deals with the publication of an annual report on marine pollution control. I have not, until now, mentioned the report, but I stress that it is important. It is not just a piece, or pieces, of paper, which is produced every year, to be consigned shortly thereafter to the waste paper basket. It is important that the public and the House should be aware of the continual problem of marine pollution--not just when we debate the issues--and that it is something that regularly happens and remains threatening. By ensuring that a report is produced every year and that all the issues are re-examined, that state of readiness will be kept at the front of people's consciousness.
I do not suggest that there is a severe problem. I do not wish to over-egg the pudding or suggest that there is a particular problem with tankers, because, if one compares the amount of oil that is lost from them, or the amount of pollution that takes place in the marine environment, with the amount that takes place on land--or in the sea as a result of incidents on the land--one sees that it is much smaller. The fact that each incident can be particularly major should not delude people into thinking that there is a vast problem across all our oceans. But, nevertheless, the problem is sufficiently severe for us continually to bear in mind the importance of keeping an eye on the problem.
An annual report would ensure that the following were continually asked. Is intervention early enough ? Is there sufficient international co-operation ? Some 72 per cent. of oil pollution comes from illegal dumping. What are we doing about that ? Is there proper waste accounting ? Are we dealing adequately with the problems of bunker oil and garbage ? Is there a problem in dealing with foreign ships that are coming into, or near to, our waters ? Is there a problem with foreign masters and crew ? All those issues are of concern. They are all dealt with in some way by the Bill, but perhaps not entirely adequately ; only time will tell. It needs regular review to ensure that.
New clause 2 and the related amendments are designed to tackle those problems as best we can. They are designed to strengthen and sharpen the Bill in practical terms, but not in any way to alter or spoil the good work for which my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives is responsible. I hope that the House will give careful consideration to my suggestions and that it will give swift and easy passage to the remaining stages of the Bill.
Column 558promoting the Bill, but I also support the new clause tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Merchant).
Although my constituency is landlocked, it should not be assumed that people there do not care what is happening to our coastline. In fact, it is quite the opposite because, for every person living on the coast, there are many more living inland who go to the coast as tourists to enjoy the beaches or take yachting and sailing holidays. It is a matter of great concern to us all if marine and birdlife are put at risk.
I admire the concept expressed in clause 6 that the Secretary of State should take responsibility for the co-ordination of clean-up procedures, but it does not take a great leap of intelligence to realise that it is all very well having the idea, but one then has to work out how to implement it, or the great scheme would hit the rocks before it had got under way. I am, therefore, delighted that my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham has come up with the solution of an incident control manager.
As there are so many people involved in pollution control, it strikes me as inevitable that there could be clashes, overlaps and omissions, so it is essential that one person has control so that we can say, "The buck stops there". He would know what was happening and where. The spin-offs of such an arrangement would be innumerable. One would be speed of action and another would be the knowledge that there was someone to chase ; someone who could ensure that things were going according to plan. The enormous damage that could result from a lack of effective and efficient action is enough to make us realise how important the concept of a control manager is. I fully support amendment No. 7. It is appropriate that at the end of the year the Secretary of State should present a report to the House and the public at large on exactly how the operations worked, whether they were effective and what lessons could be learnt. It would be complacent and arrogant for anyone to assume that everything necessarily went well. A public examination would be of tremendous benefit.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives on promoting the Bill, but I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham on having the foresight to try to tighten an essential clause.
Mr. Simon Coombs : I join my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland) in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Merchant) on tabling the interesting new clause and associated amendments and giving the House the opportunity to discuss various matters in a little more detail. Although my hon. Friend now represents Beckenham, he used to represent Newcastle upon Tyne, Central and is, therefore, a man steeped in matters maritime to his very core.
I examined the new clause with some interest because it appeared to encapsulate a notion on which I am sure that we all agree--that speed is of the essence when dealing with any maritime pollution incident, great or small. However, I then began to ask one or two questions and perhaps my hon. Friend will wish to intervene to answer them. New clause 2 states :
Column 559"The Secretary of State may appoint, and make provision in relation to the functions and powers of, a marine pollution incident control manager in respect of any specific incident or incidents." The impression is that such an individual would be appointed in respect of a particular incident and would assume his duties only after the incident had occurred. We have to ask, how soon after the incident would it be possible to make such an appointment ? If speed is indeed of the essence, could there be enough of a delay to lose the advantage of the manager's co-ordination efforts because he would not be able to arrive on the scene, either physically or metaphysically, on time ?
Mr. Merchant : Perhaps I can help my hon. Friend. I was thinking that the person who might be appointed could be someone connected with the local authority involved, perhaps the authority's own emergency planning officer or the equivalent. That would mean that the person would already have knowledge of the scene or the locality.
Mr. Coombs : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention, which clarifies the position, but I am not sure that it necessarily leads me to give my full support to the new clause. I was going to say that there would appear to be some advantage in having a permanent incident control manager, someone who would be in a position to take responsibility for the management of an incident whenever and wherever it occurred, rather than, as my hon. Friend confirmed, appointing and giving powers to a person who happened conveniently to be in the area simply because of his role in a local authority or the immediate locality. The advantage of having someone fulfil the role who is always technically available would be that he or she would learn from experience and from one incident to another. Such a person should have administrative expertise and the ability to cope with people. He may have a scientific or engineering background. Indeed, it is almost inevitable that such a person would be the most desirable, but he should nevertheless have administrative capabilities. We are all aware of the circumstances that can arise after an incident--the appalling chaos, fear and uncertainty. In addition, incidents often occur in bad weather when communications are down. It is important to appoint someone with the necessary strength of character and experience and the ability to deal with people as well as the technical aspects of an incident.
Where could such a person be found ? Clearly, he could be found within the existing control mechanism. I am, therefore, not sure that there is any advantage in appointing a different person for each incident, because such a person would not have the experience to be gained from dealing with incidents over a long period.
I suggest that we should appoint a person on permanent stand-by, although he would of course have other responsibilities. My hon. Friend the Minister for Transport in London said that there could be as many as 20 or 30 minor incidents a year of the type that we discussed under the previous new clause. In addition, there is always the possibility of larger incidents that, sadly, occur from time to time, so such a person might be fully occupied, but he would have other duties along the lines suggested in the other amendments to which I shall refer in a moment.
Would the person appointed be based in London, which would have obvious advantages in terms of communications ? Would he be based in a large city near the incident ? Again, that would make sense from the point of view of
Column 560communications. Or would he be expected to set up operations on the coast as near as possible to the incident ? That might be advantageous in terms of dealing with the services that were needed immediately, but not necessarily from the point of view of lengthy communications. All those issues are important and I am sure that hon. Members will want to give them some consideration before we accept the new clause.
Amendment No. 6 suggests
"the preparation and maintenance of a marine pollution emergency plan in consultation with such shipping and local authority interests as the Secretary of State may consider appropriate."
I have considerable sympathy with that amendment, because it seems to fit better with my suggestion that someone should be permanently appointed to the role. An opportunity is thus given to develop expertise and to learn from one incident to another.
My hon. Friend the Minister mentioned that Holland was one of the nations that had already responded to the need to change legislation in this respect. There is an old Dutch phrase of which I know that you, Madam Deputy Speaker, will be aware, although other hon. Members may not know it. The phrase is "ek plan saln maak", which means that it is a good idea always to have a plan of what one intends to do next. My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham is wise to suggest that we should try to learn from incidents as they occur around the world. We should not learn only from our own experience in the United Kingdom, but from incidents that occur elsewhere. The development of a plan would be extremely sensible.
Amendment No. 7 provides for an annual report to Parliament. I am always a little nervous about such reports. They can become ossified and so routine as to lose their effect. It is, I am delighted to say, the general policy of the Speaker to give hon. Members the opportunity to raise incidents that occur in or near their constituencies which are of severe public concern. That is very important. The use of a private notice question or of an Adjournment debate enables hon. Members to raise such matters when necessary. Equally, it is up to the Opposition to raise such a matter on one of their Supply days if they feel that the issues involved are important and should be discussed. There are many opportunities for hon. Members to raise such matters. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham will think about those before he insists that such a report should be debated regularly.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister has found my contribution helpful-- it is intended to be so--and he was kind enough to say that he found my previous intervention helpful. I emphasise that speed is of the essence. My hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. Banks) referred to an incident way back in history, in 1967--the disaster of a large ship whose name I was always taught to pronounce as the Torrey Canyon.
Mr. Coombs : I heard my hon. Friend pronounce it--he has repeated the pronounciation in a sedentary intervention--as the "Tory" Canyon. This is a piece of media hype designed to suggest that the party that he and I have the honour to represent has a large split. I can assure my hon. Friend that the experts would tell him that the correct
Column 561pronunciation is Torrey Canyon. He should always stick to that for fear that he will be picked up and misrepresented, especially by press hounds--if they were here.
Speed is of the essence in incidents as great as that of the tragic loss of the Torrey Canyon or as relatively small, although still important, as those that we discussed earlier. I hope, therefore, that my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham will recognise that the advantage of having someone permanently available to move quickly into action, with a well-developed plan itself based on long experience of such matters, has much to recommend it. In those circumstances, my hon. Friend might consider whether withdrawing the motion would be an appropriate way in which to move the Bill forward.
Mr. Matthew Banks : I am most grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Merchant) for tabling new clause 2. He has done the House a great service in allowing us to debate these issues. I am not certain that I entirely agree with the new clause as it stands. I shall listen to what my hon. Friend the Minister says before I lend my whole- hearted support to it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. Coombs) may have misheard me. I pronounced the name Torrey Canyon. I remember from my Gordon Highlander days that Torry is a delightful area of council housing in Aberdeen. My hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Mr. Malone), who was formerly the Member of Parliament for Aberdeen, South, knows Torry well.
The new clause deals with the specific matter of incidents of pollution and my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham proposed the appointment of a manager to carry out the functions to which he referred. That manager should be able to respond quickly, at the request of the Secretary of State, to any incident and there should be a named person to take responsibility for getting things done. I referred earlier to the necessity for speedy command and control in responding to incidents. Although my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham has made a number of important points, I think that some of the matters to which he referred are already being dealt with. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham that the idea of having an annual report, as proposed in amendment No. 7, is good. I am pleased that the Secretary of State will continue to have responsibility for co-ordinating measures to prevent, reduce and minimise the effects of marine pollution. Those are general and far-reaching powers which already exist. That point goes to the heart of my concern about the new clause. General powers also exist with respect to submarine piping and offshore installations, as well as to pollution from ships. The new clause would give statutory basis, for the first
Column 562time, to the Department of Transport marine pollution control unit. However, I am not sure that it is necessary for new clause 2 to be added to the Bill.
I am pleased that clause 5 implements the 1992 protocols to the 1969 international convention on civil liability for oil pollution damage and the 1971 international convention on the establishment of an international fund for compensation for oil pollution damage 1971. The clause will raise the amount of compensation that can be paid under the international oil pollution compensation fund for a single incident from £55 million to £125 million. I do not believe that such compensation will be retrospective, so the provision will not affect Braer claims, although those claims are unlikely to rise above the £55 million ceiling.
The new clause would allow the Secretary of State to appoint a marine pollution incident control manager. The manager should be able to take, promote or co-ordinate measures to
"reduce and minimise the effects of a specified incident". If I understood my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham correctly, the manager could ask the Secretary of State to give directions to local authorities or the owner of any ship as he thought fit. Authorities or owners would have to comply with such directions. Amendment No. 6 provides for
"the preparation and maintenance of a marine pollution emergency plan in consultation with"
shipping interests, local authority interests and others that I have mentioned. I have already referred to the annual report. Essentially, clause 6 reiterates the powers that the Secretary of State already possesses. That goes to the heart of why I am uncertain whether new clause 2 should be added to the Bill. Sections 12 to 16 of the Prevention of Oil Pollution Act 1971 empower the Secretary of State for Transport to deal with oil and chemical pollution in United Kingdom waters and to intervene if a ship threatens to cause significant pollution.
The powers include sinking or destroying a ship. However, the powers apply solely to United Kingdom waters. In practice, clean-up operations are already directed and controlled by the marine pollution control unit to which I have already referred. That unit is part of the Department of Transport and was set up, with great foresight, way back in 1979.
Although I await the comments of my hon. Friend the Minister, it seems that the Government are likely to believe that the new clause is unnecessary as there would be a duplication of function in relation to work that is already undertaken by the MPCU. The MPCU has special responsibility for oil spills and is dispatched to an incident to co-ordinate and direct operations.
I am aware of the concerns of my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham, who referred to these matters. However, in relation to the Braer incident, the MPCU's chief scientific officer flew with a colleague very quickly to the location where pollution was occurring. I pay tribute to that swift action, which underlines the fact that the concerns expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham are already being addressed satisfactorily.
The MPCU has a national contingency plan. While it is vital that we should monitor constantly how that plan is working and make changes where appropriate, the
Column 563Department of Transport and the MPCU already have such a plan which, as I have said, was set up with great foresight some years ago. The MPCU and the contingency plan were set up to operate as part of the coastguard service and have remote sensing facilities to detect spills. The MPCU owns eight aircraft and has a stockpile of dispersants, cargo transfer equipment, vessels, breathing apparatus, suits and so on. Half that stockpile is intended to deal specifically with oil spills and pollution. The other half is for chemicals. The equipment is operated and maintained by a private sector contractor. The unit also has ships' engineers and seamen. Therefore, there is already a firm foundation within the Department and the unit to deal with such difficulties.
I have been unable to trace any published views on the need for a marine pollution incident control manager. Perhaps that is because the new clause is very recent. Greenpeace has told me that it does not believe that such a manager would make a great deal of difference, because what really matters is prevention rather than cure. Greenpeace has also repeatedly called for a mandatory ban on vessels entering specific areas of coastal waters around the Minches and the Fair Isles similar to the decision taken by the Italian Government to institute a mandatory ban on tankers entering certain sensitive areas in Italian waters. The Government have the power to impose such a ban now, but I am not entirely certain that it would be right to go down that particular route. Nor have I been able to find any responses to the Bill in general other than the reports from Lloyd's List and the press releases from the Department of Transport.
The matters referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham are important and I am glad that we have had an opportunity to debate them this morning. I will listen carefully to my hon. Friend the Minister when he replies to the debate because I am far from convinced that it would be right and proper, in view of what I have said and the firm foundation on which we are already building, to incorporate new clause 2 in the Bill at this stage.
Ms Walley : I will be brief as I realise that time is pressing. I congratulate the hon. Member for Beckenham on moving the new clause and I am grateful to him in two respects. First, as we are debating the new clause and amendments to clause 6, I now have an opportunity to place on the record--as I will be in order now--something that I was unable to do earlier. Precisely because of the problems experienced by the charitable organisations in working closely with the marine pollution control unit, those organisations have been very keen to amend the Bill so that, where necessary, there could be a quick response in relation to their expertise whenever a disaster strikes. I intend to give the Minister a copy of the briefing that I have received from Care for the Wild. I hope that he will consider it seriously, as he has already indicated that he will, and take on board issues that relate to the effectiveness of the operation of the MPCU. I await the Minister's considered opinion in due course to that briefing.
Secondly, I believe that we have had a piecemeal and fragmented response to shipping. We genuinely need a co-ordinated approach to everything connected with safer shipping, including crew competence, prevention of pollution, improved facilities in ports and extra or additional facilities for state control of ports. We must consider the work of the MPCU in that wider context.
Column 564I want to share with the House the feelings that I experienced when I went up to Shetland immediately after the Braer disaster. Everyone who went up there will have a powerful image of a long line of Dakotas at the airport in Shetland in the most horrendous stormy weather. People flying into that airport would have flown over the wreck of the Braer. There were huge gales and it was impossible for the Dakotas to fly and spray down their dispersants.
That issue became a matter of great contention because of the concerns of environmental groups, especially those in Norway, about the advisability of using dispersants had the Dakotas been able to fly. Those groups were concerned about the type of dispersants. They were also unsure whether the dispersants were required to deal with the oil spill.
The lesson that we must learn from the Braer disaster is that we must have a co-ordinated response. Whoever carries out work on behalf of the Government, in whatever executive agency or in the marine pollution control unit, must have a co-ordinated approach, at the heart of which must be concern about environmental protection. It is no good having a strategy to deal with pollution if that approach causes more pollution in the long term.
The amendments give us an opportunity to consider the way in which the MPCU works and how that organisation should be at the heart of policy in relation to transport and environmental protection. I believe that we have a long way to go in that respect.
The amendments to clause 6, which raise questions about the role of the MPCU and whether someone should be appointed permanently or simply to suit the immediate needs of a particular disaster, and whether there should be an annual report in relation to pollution, would help the House to have a better understanding of what needs to be done to enhance further environmental protection. I suspect that, for reasons best known to himself, the Minister will say that he does not feel able to accept them.
Earlier, we were told that speed is of the essence. If that is so, why have we had to wait so long for Lord Donaldson's inquiry into Shetland ? Whatever the reasons for the delay, I now understand that the report will be published in May this year. If the House is concerned about the issue of oil spillages and preventing them from happening--Greenpeace rightly says that that is absolutely crucial--let us have a commitment from the Minister that, whatever are Lord Donaldson's short-term, medium-term or long-term recommendations, the matter will not come back as a piecemeal or fragmented Bill but as a co-ordinated approach to British shipping, international shipping and doing what we can to prevent further pollution.
Mr. Harris : I am grateful to be able to follow the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms Walley) because she has been a great help in concentrating attention on the whole issue, as has my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Merchant) in moving the new clause. The hon. Lady chided the Government for approaching the matter in a piecemeal way. Indeed, she has voiced that criticism on a number of occasions, including in the Standing Committee that considered the Bill. I have sympathy with what she says. However, it is almost inevitable that there will be something of a piecemeal
Column 565approach because these matters are not solely within the control and command of the House, or, indeed, the Government.
Shipping is an international business and, therefore, many of the decisions that are taken, and many of the legislative proposals, must have their roots in international conventions. We all know that the International Maritime Organisation spends a considerable amount of time considering the issues. It must inevitably do so over a long period, for the sole reason that, in order to make the decisions and proposals work on an international basis, it must get agreement. The whole purpose of many parts of my Bill is to implement such international agreements. Despite the hon. Lady's criticisms, it is to some extent inevitable that such matters are dealt with stage by stage.
The hon. Lady mentioned Lord Donaldson's report on the Braer disaster. When disasters come about, we learn lessons from them and respond accordingly. We all look forward to Lord Donaldson's report in May. As one who gave evidence to the Committee, I do not think that Lord Donaldson can be criticised for his thorough approach to a complicated set of circumstances. If he had produced a rushed report, the hon. Lady would have been justifieid in being the first to criticise him for doing so. We wait with interest to read what Lord Donaldson says in his report which, the hon. Lady said is likely to be published in May ; I also understand that to be the case. Inevitably, further measures will need to be considered by the IMO and subsequently by the House. I am afraid that, despite the hon. Lady's plea, there will be a piecemeal element in the whole matter. Let me return to the new clause and amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham. I share the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. Banks) on that matter. If my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham examines the Bill, he will note that a number of the clauses specifically address his points. He referred to the Penlee disaster, which of course occurred in my constituency, and rightly drew attention to the suggestion made at the time that there was an element of delay in reaching the salvage terms. The main purpose of the Bill is to give effect to the international convention on salvage, so that issue is addressed.
Similarly, the main purpose of other parts of the Bill is to implement in the United Kingdom the international convention on oil pollution preparedness, response and co-operation. Once again, precisely those issues are dealt with in my hon. Friend's proposals. I suggest, therefore, that there would be a certain amount of duplication if the House were minded to adopt the new clause and the amendments.
The Minister will undoubtedly speak at some length about the role of the marine pollution control unit and the lead that that organisation specifically takes both in drawing up plans for dealing with potential disasters and in acting as the executive agency of the Secretary of State. Having listened with great care to the points made by my hon. Friend--I am grateful to him for enabling us to debate the issue--it is my view that these important issues are addressed by either existing arrangements or, indeed, provisions in my Bill.
Column 566new clause. I suspect that he gets his marine knowledge not so much from his previous experience as the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central but more from being the direct neighbour of my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway) who, as we all know, is probably the only hon. Member in the House who can make a speech unaided by a detailed brief. It may even explain the expertise of my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland). As there is more self-congratulation going around the House this morning than at the average meeting of the old Soviet Communist party, we might impose a self- denying ordinance on future congratulations to each other. [ Hon. Members :-- "Hear, hear."] If my hon. Friends insist, I shall continue to congratulate them all.
Suffice it to say that my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham has raised an important issue. One or two of his points are worthy of some exploration, although I hope that I can persuade him that the amendments are generally already anticipated--or the thrust of them is already anticipated--in the Bill.
I shall deal first with the new clause, which effectively duplicates the duties and responsibilities, as one or two of my hon. Friends said, that were assigned to the dedicated unit that was set up in 1978 to exercise the responsibilities of the Secretary of State for Transport for these matters. Just to be clear, the unit is the marine pollution control unit, which is part of the Coastguard Agency, which is in turn an executive agency of the Department of Transport. Incidentally, that answers the question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. Coombs), who referred to the need to respond quickly to such incidents. My hon. Friend can be assured that the speed of response is such that the MCPU is ready to deal on an hourly basis, rather than a daily basis, with the sort of emergencies that occur.
The MPCU has specific responsibilities for planning contingency arrangements, ensuring that they are properly planned and taking charge of operations to do with pollution at sea. My hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. Banks) mentioned the equipment that the unit has at its disposal : aerial dispersant spraying resources, remote sensing surveillance aircraft, sea-borne dispersant spraying resources, stocks of the relevant chemicals, mechanical recovery resources, cargo transfer resources, and so on. In a major spill, the MPCU is responsible both for directing at-sea operations and for co-ordinating the shoreline response.
The MPCU already has a marine pollution incident control manager in the sense that the control and direction of the response to an incident is under the overall control of the chief executive of the Coastguard Agency. In his absence, the responsibility falls to the director of the MPCU. Therefore, the new clause is unnecessary. The MPCU already has responsibility for directing operations in an incident and has powers of direction which apply to ship owners, masters and salvors.
My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham mentioned the role of local authorities. The power to direct local authorities would, I am advised, go further than is considered necessary. I am happy to place on record the fact that the arrangements with local authorities generally are felt to work extremely well. My hon. Friend was entirely right to make the point that the local authority is often the key, and perhaps that is not appreciated enough. That means that local authorities themselves must do a