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Delegated Legislation Committee Debates

Draft Merchant Shipping and Fishing Vessels (Port Waste Reception Facilities) Regulations 2003

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Second Standing Committee
on Delegated Legislation

Monday 7 July 2003

[Miss Anne Begg in the Chair]

Draft Merchant Shipping and Fishing Vessels (Port Waste Reception Facilities)
Regulations 2003

4.30 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. David Jamieson): I beg to move,

    That the Committee has considered the draft Merchant Shipping and Fishing Vessels (Port Waste Reception Facilities) Regulations 2003.

It is a pleasure it is to sit under your chairmanship, Miss Begg. This is the first opportunity that I have had to do so, and I hope that it will not be the last.

I am very pleased to introduce the regulations, which will help to protect the marine environment. The underlying logic is simple. Ships generate waste during their voyages and they must dispose of it. If they cannot rely on being able to do so at port, they may resort to doing so at sea. One sure way of reducing the pollution of seas and coasts is to make certain that easy-to-use and cost-effective waste reception facilities are available in ports. Ships have an obligation to discharge waste in ports, and ports, in turn, have an obligation to provide adequate facilities.

Several years ago, the United Kingdom introduced its own legislation to put the principle that I have described into effect. Currently, each port determines what waste reception facilities need to be provided. Waste management planning does not force common solutions on all ports but lays down the thought processes that should be used in deciding what facilities to provide. The UK's waste reception regime is based on plans that in turn are based on consultation.

After the UK put its legislation in place, a proposal for European Community legislation was initiated. The UK played an active role in developing an EC measure, and the outcome was directive 2000/59/EC on port reception facilities for ship-generated waste and cargo residues. As a result of the UK's active role in the negotiations, the directive reflects the UK's existing regime in several ways. However, it also introduces three significant changes, in the form of requirements that are additional to those in the existing UK regime.

The first additional requirement is for ships to provide notification before entering port and details of the waste that they will discharge there.

The second requirement is for ships to deliver their waste to port reception facilities before leaving port. None the less, there is provision for ships to keep their waste on board and to proceed to the next port of call if they have sufficient dedicated storage capacity for the waste that has been and will be accumulated during the voyage.

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The third significant additional requirement is for ships to pay a mandatory fee for port waste reception facilities. That does not apply to fishing vessels or smaller craft, so most marinas, and some piers and jetties, are unlikely to need to apply this requirement. The directive stipulates that cost-recovery systems for port waste reception facilities must provide ships with no incentive to discharge their waste into the sea. Ships must, therefore, contribute significantly to the costs of such facilities, irrespective of whether they use them. The charge may be incorporated into the port dues, or there may be a separate standard waste fee.

Several other minor changes result from the directive, and I draw particular attention to regulation 15, which provides for the Secretary of State to exempt ships engaged in certain types of traffic from the three new requirements regarding prior notification, the mandatory delivery of waste and the payment of charges. To qualify for such an exemption, ships will need to demonstrate that they are engaged in scheduled traffic, with frequent and regular port calls. They will also need to provide evidence of an arrangement that ensures the delivery of ship-generated waste, as well as the payment of charges in a harbour or terminal along their route.

The regulations reflect the full public consultation exercise carried out by my Department in summer 2002. Officials have had close contact with the ports and shipping industries throughout the process. We have every reason to believe that they will be workable for industry, while performing a valuable environmental function.

The compliance costs to industry seem likely to be small, assuming that the 154,000 arrivals in UK ports—which there were in 2001—can be taken as a guide for future years. My Department has made further assumptions about the number of vessels to which the new requirements in the directive might be relevant. We estimate that the costs to the economy of the processes will be about £500,000 per annum, an average of some £3 per arrival.

There will be consequences for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency's monitoring and enforcement work, which will result in increased costs to the UK Government. However, taken as a whole, the measures are likely to have cost implications for the MCA of some £43,000.

Mr. Don Foster (Bath): The Minister has repeated something that we are told in the explanatory notes: there is an increased cost to the UK Government—the additional cost to the MCA. However, in another place, Baroness Farrington said:

    ''The increased costs will be met from the fees charged and no additional taxpayers' money will be spent.''—[Official Report, House of Lords, 4 July 2003; Vol. 650, c. 1147.]

There is clearly confusion between the two Houses. Can the Minister sort it out?

Mr. Jamieson: The small estimated costs for the MCA will be borne out of the funds provided by my Department. The costs of providing the waste facilities will be met by the users of those facilities, the ships that come into port. I hope that that clarifies the matter.

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4.36 pm

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): I add my welcome to you, Miss Begg. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship and a delight to see the Minister in his place. I thank him for his eloquence in introducing this important legislation.

The official Opposition welcome any measure that reduces pollution at sea. Nevertheless, we have a number of questions, some of which have been put to us by outside bodies. The Minister has said that such bodies were consulted, and that a full consultation took place. Can he tell us as comprehensively as possible which bodies were consulted, particularly in relation to fishing vessels?

Turning to the practicalities, ease of use and meeting the operational needs of ships regularly using the ports have been identified as the two key issues with regard to the delivery of the directive through the regulations. Is the Minister convinced that the directive, as applied by the regulations, will meet the test of practicality—will the facilities will be easy to use and accessible and the operating needs of ships regularly using the ports be met?

The Minister mentioned the cost, which was helpful. Can he assure us that that is the total additional charge to the UK purse through the MCA? Is he expecting any other costs, and will they be spread as the user pays? Can he satisfy us that there are no additional costs around the corner?

I understand that the Department led the industry to believe that the directive would be applied quickly. In fact, the reverse has happened: the directive has been implemented slowly, in the form of the regulations. I understand that the Government even received a letter from the Commission in May threatening infraction proceedings for failing to implement the directive. As a result of that, we now have the regulations—in a timely fashion, perhaps. We applaud the directive's aim, which is to reduce pollution of the sea and coast by garbage and other waste that ships deposit. For my own information, I presume that that does not cover unmentionables that come out of little pleasure vessels. I understand that that will be dealt with differently, but I should be grateful if the Minister would satisfy me on that.

Ships will also be required to notify the port in advance of their waste reception requirements, unless they have been exempted. What will the process of exemption be, and how will it be applied? Will there be a lifelong, timeless exemption, or will terms and conditions be attached? The Minister said that ships will also be required to discharge all their waste before leaving, unless they have sufficient capacity to carry it into the next port. I am not sure whether that will lead to an infringement of the second criterion of the new requirement that the Minister set out, which is that the ships must deliver their waste as they said in advance. Can the Minister therefore confirm that it will be acceptable for ships to carry waste on to the next port if they have sufficient capacity?

The rules as set out in the directive are fairly complicated on charging and are, I imagine, designed to ensure that the level of charges does not encourage

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vessels to deposit waste into the sea. As the Minister said, UK ports are already under a statutory requirement to prepare waste reception plans and to submit them to the MCA for approval. However, those plans will require amendment to meet the complicated provisions set out in the regulations, and those amended plans will have to be approved.

The Department has said that it plans to issue a detailed marine guidance note to ports and shipowners about the implications of the directive for them. My information is that that guidance note has not yet appeared. Will the Minister assure us that the regulations will not be brought into force until that marine guidance note has been issued? I understand that the target date has been set for 16 July, but that is one day before the House rises for the summer Adjournment, so time is necessarily very short. It would therefore be helpful to know whether that note will be issued before then. Will the Department also allow a period of grace so that ports can prepare and publish their new arrangements for the reporting of waste reception requirements?

The regulations also make provision for exemptions for ships engaged in regular services, such as ferries and other vessels on regular schedules. Would the Minister be good enough to say what criteria the Government will use in deciding whether to grant exemption, and how quickly requests for exemptions will be dealt with? That question obviously exercises the industry greatly.

The regulations will also require ports to produce amended port waste reception plans to incorporate the new requirements. However, as hon. Members will be aware, preparation of the plans will inevitably take some time. For instance, ports will not be able to complete their plans until they know which of their regular vessels are likely to qualify for the exemptions to which I referred. I understand that 31 December 2003 would be a reasonable deadline for the submission of the amended plans. Will the Minister confirm that that will be acceptable, and will he further agree that the deadline can be extended if there are delays in dealing with shipowners' requests for exemptions?

The Opposition would like a smooth passage for the directive and for the implementation of the regulations. If the Minister can give us satisfaction on those matters that will obviously be helpful.

I understand that the EU has not yet reached agreement—perhaps the Minister will confirm that that is still the case—on what constitutes a ''significant contribution'' for each ship under regulation 14(1)(a). The European Commission believes that each ship could contribute at least a third, and it will submit a proposal to amend the directive to that effect in three years' time. The Government need to be prepared to react to such a proposal, in full knowledge that it will change the regime that we are considering today. Will the Minister confirm that that is the case; and will there be an opportunity to look again at the amended regime—perhaps a Committee might consider it?

We would like to know what arrangements the Government have put in place to monitor the level of

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waste charges imposed on ships using a harbour or terminal by the relevant UK authority or operator, as set out in regulation 13.

We have just heard that amendments will shortly be made, and those at every level of the industry—the owners of small, medium and large ships—would like to know if anything in the revised regulations or in the amended regime to which I referred will lead to increased costs or bureaucratic burdens on the small companies that operate marinas.

I understand that the environmental impact assessment that has taken place covers the present directive and statutory instrument. We would like to be satisfied that an amended regime would be the subject of a regulatory impact assessment if it made material differences in that regard.

Can the Minister confirm that our understanding is correct that the additional requirements of the regulations are focused upon vessels carrying more than 12 passengers, and that they should not impact greatly on the majority of marina operators? Those operating marinas and those running small ships carrying more than 12 passengers will need time to set out amended guidance notes. I issue a note of caution on the need to guard against imposing additional costs on small marinas.

I hope that the Minister will take that in good measure, and that he will seek to give guidance on the regulations before us and those that are to come. They will have a great impact on many small marinas and pleasure boats. I understand that the Minister has had discussions with the British Marine Federation and the Royal Yachting Association on that subject.

I want to raise several other issues, although the Minister may not be able to respond today. I hope, however, that he will at least take my points on board, so to speak. First, will reception facilities in UK and other EU ports be adequate to deal with all the waste discharged there on a particular day? Will charging systems be constructed in such a way that they do not act as an incentive to dump at sea? That would be contrary to the directive and the regulations.

I make the plea not only that port waste facilities are adequate but that all vessels use them. The Minister gave an assurance that the Maritime and Coastguard Agency would police matters in this country, but who will do so at ports elsewhere in the EU? Can we be satisfied that the provisions will be implemented rigorously elsewhere? We do not want any gold-plating in that regard.

Will the Minister undertake to ensure that substandard operators are not tempted to undercut good charging systems? Such systems will need to be universally applied, as I am sure that the Minister would expect them to be.

Will the Minister clarify why ''fee'' was changed to ''charge'' when the directive was transposed into UK national law in the regulations?

It has been put to me that there is no provision for masters to report in confidence and without fear of

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retribution should they encounter inadequate port waste reception facilities. It is hoped that such problems will not occur in the UK, and I am sure that the Minister will want to put our minds at rest by confirming that the Maritime and Coastguard Agency has in place effective policing mechanisms that go beyond merely assessing plans.

Will the Minister confirm that the authority that is designated for the purposes of regulation 6 should be the competent harbour authority? Will the appropriate authority for large terminals or Government-owned installations be the competent harbour authority, or will the Government designate another body?

Will the Minister ensure that it is acceptable to convey information by fax or electronic mail where exemptions are not granted? That would ensure that an evidential record of the communication was held.

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency could obtain information by inspecting the appropriate documentation at the port. If such things were included in the port charges, ships would be unlikely to avail themselves of the facilities provided. The necessity for inspection would therefore be reduced. Has the Minister given any thought to the form of communication that will be used to convey how the charges will be incurred and paid?

I have already made several points about regulation 13, but does it faithfully transpose the requirements of article 8 of the directive? The Government may think that it does. It is absolutely necessary that any cost recovery system for using port reception facilities should provide ships with no incentive to discharge their waste into the sea. However, the provision of a separate compulsory standard waste fee may suffice in the absence of an inclusive charge. Have the Government given that any thought?

On regulation 17 and penalties, will the Minister look kindly on a request to insert an additional defence provision relating to due diligence? It should be a defence if it can be shown that a master made reasonable efforts to comply with the regulations, but was unable to do so because of circumstances beyond his control. One thinks, for example, of the rather expensive yacht that smashed into Dunbar harbour this weekend at vast expense. Presumably it caused a great deal of damage. Will the Minister accept that due diligence should be an acceptable defence, as it is a feature of similar legislative requirements?

I am grateful to the Minister for his patience in allowing me to ask those questions. Opposition Members broadly welcome the thrust of the regulations. We are pleased that there will not be additional costs under a separate regime and that there may be scope for further consultation and a further regulatory impact assessment. We have had some satisfaction on other points that we have made, particularly the fact that the charges will not be more than those to which the Minister referred.

4.54 pm


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