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

[back to previous text]

Mr. Foster: I, too, am delighted to serve under your chairmanship, Miss Begg. The hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh) asked many illuminating

Column Number: 009

questions. I gave up counting beyond 20, but there were certainly more than that. I am sure that the entire Committee is waiting with considerable interest to hear the Minister's detailed responses to each and every one.

If you had the opportunity, Miss Begg, as I suspect you did, to read the excellent background briefing or explanatory notes provided by the Minister, you will have realised that we are debating a pretty exciting topic. I am sure that all members of the Committee will have read the details of the survey conducted in 2002 of 229 beach locations in the UK and the Channel Islands, which found no fewer than 241,285 items of litter. It was possible to identify 2.2 per cent. of them as coming from shipping, and a further 39 per cent. were non-sourced. A great deal of detailed work has clearly gone into this, but no mention is made of the items described by the hon. Lady as unmentionables. Whether the survey covered them, we do not know.

One thing is clear, however. In recent years, there has been a significant improvement in the way in which the merchant and fishing fleets have reduced the amount of waste that is thrown over the sides of ships. Incidentally, that is also true of the Royal Navy, which has gone to great lengths to find alternative ways of dealing with waste on board ship—storing it effectively, plastics being heated and put into plugs to be offloaded back at the ports and so on.

The Government must take some credit, because the briefing notes say that they must take some credit. Those notes say that we have led the way in Europe since 1997, and that the European directive is largely based on the work of the Government then. We must therefore be grateful to the Government for the work that they have done and, more importantly, to our merchant shipping fleet and fishing vessels.

My one concern relates to the way in which the proposals in the regulations will be monitored. Much of the success of the monitoring will rely on the work of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency. I am sure that all members of the Committee will want to join me in congratulating Captain Bligh, who, as we heard today, has been appointed as the new head of the MCA, taking over in September. I am sure that the Minister will comment on that in a moment, but no doubt Captain Bligh will be concerned about the significant pressure already on the MCA and the work that it already has to do.

The MCA now has this additional burden on it. We are clearly told, and the Minister has confirmed, that there is likely to be an additional cost to it of about £43,000. I asked the Minister where that money was coming from. It might seem a relatively small amount, but it is a significant sum to the MCA, hard pressed as it is. The Minister repeated that this was an additional burden on the taxpayer, which the Government would pay. I must reiterate that, because in the debate in another place on 4 July, Baroness Farrington clearly and categorically said:

    ''no additional taxpayers' money will be spent.''—[Official Report, House of Lords, 4 July 2003; Vol. 650, c. 1147.]

The Minister, however, said exactly the opposite.

Column Number: 010

Mr. Ken Purchase (Wolverhampton, North-East): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Foster: I am delighted to give way to the hon. Gentleman, who knows more about these issues than I do.

Mr. Purchase: Coming from a land-locked west midlands constituency, I'll say I do!

I want to raise two simple points with the hon. Gentleman. He talks about £43,000 as a considerable amount of money. To a man, it would be, but I hope that he will accept that whether the figure is significant is relative. Will the hon. Gentleman tell us what fraction of the organisation's total budget would be consumed by £43,000? Does he accept that it may be recovered by incurring lower costs from subsequent cleaning-up operations that might be required had the facilities not been there?

Mr. Foster: The hon. Gentleman's last point is absolutely right. That is why at the beginning I welcomed the work that the Government have already done in helping to clean up our beaches. There is, however, the much larger issue of possible leaks, not least of oil. There has been a large number of proposals to create safe areas at sea to which such ships could be taken when in difficulty. I believe that speeding up that sort of work is vital. It should be dealt with very quickly indeed, but this country and countries throughout Europe have been particularly tardy about dealing with it.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the proportion of the MCA budget involved. I do not know the precise figures off the top of my head, but I know that it is a greater proportion than the 0.1 per cent. that we know the costs of the fees to the merchant shipping fleet will be when the regulations are introduced. Nevertheless, whether it is 1, 2 or 3 per cent., it is still a large proportion. That, however, is not my point. The point that I made to the Minister was simple: the Minister says that this will be a charge to the taxpayer, but the Minister in another place says exactly the opposite. I just thought that that issue should be clarified.

With those few words, and notwithstanding a few comments that I know that my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Andrew George) will want to make, not least about fishing vessels, I am delighted to say that the Liberal Democrats will support the Minister and the regulations. I hope that the Minister can find a way of assuring me about how the issue will be monitored.

Finally, although I said but a few words compared with the hon. Member for Vale of York, I was certainly not as brief as my noble Friend Baroness Harris of Richmond in a debate on the matter in another place. All she believed it necessary to say, and perhaps she was right, was:

    ''My Lords, I rise simply to say that noble Lords on the Liberal Democrat Benches agree with the regulations.''—[Official Report, House of Lords, 4 July 2003; Vol. 650, c. 1147.]

And so do we on these Benches.

5.3 pm

Andrew George (St. Ives): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Miss Begg, and to reflect

Column Number: 011

briefly on the fact that you have taken part in previous debates about maritime and fishing matters and imparted your great wisdom and knowledge on them, on which occasions your path and mine have crossed.

I have only three points to make to the Minister. First, I seek clarification of his comment, which is also contained in the regulations, that the regulations do not apply to fishing vessels or small craft. However, regulation 3(4)(b) mentions

    ''a recreational craft authorised to carry, or designed to carry, no more than 12 passengers.''

I understand that the fishing industry has assumed from that that a fishing vessel that is registered to carry 12 crew members or more would be covered by the regulation. My first question is to seek clarification: if the fishing vessel happens to be a large trawler with 12 or more crew members, does the regulation apply to it?

My two remaining points relate to regulation 14, the first to 14(1)(b), which concerns the impact of enforcement. The hon. Member for Vale of York voiced a concern about the application of the regulation. It needs to be applied in such a way that we can be confident that it will not drive some vessel owners to dump their waste at sea—that is the intention of the regulation. Perhaps the Government should recommend to port authorities that they incorporate the charge within the harbour dues so that, having paid for waste collection facilities within the harbour, a vessel has no incentive to dump waste at sea before coming into port in the belief that that will save money. The Minister said at the start of the Committee that that was an option for the port authorities to consider. Would he, having had the opportunity to reflect, make a stronger recommendation in that regard?

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Foster), I said that I intended to be brief, and I shall be. My third and final point relates to hazardous waste. The point of Committees such as this is to probe and explore issues, so I ask the Minister to what extent the Government have considered the possibility of charging a differential rate, according not necessarily to volume but to the degree of difficulty that the port authority faces in disposing of the waste? There is a distinction between a low level of hazardous toxic waste and a large volume of recyclable waste. The cost to the taxpayer, the port authority and others clearly varies according to whether the waste consists of various forms of unmentionables—I do not know what they are, could they be discarded Tory policies?—or particular forms of other types of hazardous waste. Will the Minister elaborate on that? Has he considered the implications of the additional costs of disposing of hazardous waste?

Mr. Foster: Will my hon. Friend confirm that, had he had the opportunity to scribble on the back of an envelope, he would have discovered the answer to the question of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mr. Purchase) about the percentage of the budget? It is very small. Will he confirm that it is probably 0.03 per cent.?

Column Number: 012

Mr. George: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I do not know whether, in a previous life, he was a maths teacher, but I know that he was in the teaching profession. I do not know whether we Liberal Democrats are better at scribbling on the back of envelopes or pieces of paper and working figures out, but I congratulate my hon. Friend on intervening in the nick of time as I was about to conclude my remarks. I am sure that he will take full advantage of the fact that he has put the matter on record and I hope that other hon. Members will be satisfied with his point.

5.10 pm

Previous Contents Continue

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index

©Parliamentary copyright 2003
Prepared 7 July 2003