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Palliative Care for the Terminally Ill

Jim Dobbin accordingly presented a Bill to require the provision of palliative care for persons suffering from a terminal illness; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 17 March, and to be printed [Bill 118].

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Orders of the Day

Merchant Shipping (Pollution) Bill [Lords]

Order for Second Reading read.

Mr. Speaker: I inform the House that, in my view, the instruction that appears on the Order Paper is not in order, because it refers to matters that are quite unrelated to the content of the Bill. I will therefore not call it after Second Reading.

1.9 pm

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Dr. Stephen Ladyman): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

When debating a Bill such as this, it would be normal for many of us to look to the wisdom of Lord Donaldson of Lymington for advice. As he passed away during the summer recess last year, I hope that the House will not mind if I pay a few words of respect to him before I begin my speech.

Anyone with the remotest connection to the shipping world will know of Lord Donaldson's immense contribution to improving the safety and environmental performance of the shipping industry worldwide. One consequence of the 1993 Braer disaster was Lord Donaldson's examination of how shipping could be systematically improved. His 1994 report, "Safer Ships, Cleaner Seas", led to a radical reform of standards required internationally by the International Maritime Organisation, nationally in our merchant shipping legislation and across the European Union in a series of directives and regulations aimed at consistent application of those standards.

Shipping, already among the greenest of transport modes, raised its game as a result and Lord Donaldson's work set the agenda for that improvement. He was a wise and trenchant adviser to many, Ministers included, and we are much in his debt. I am pleased that he was in his place when the Bill received a Second Reading in another place last summer. It might be tempting fate to say that the Bill completes his work, and one should not tempt fate at sea, but it follows his logic in adding to our ability to deal with the consequences of pollution and with preventive measures.

Since I have been Shipping Minister, I have made it clear that it is absolutely necessary to address critically the serious implications of any new legislation for the shipping industry. We must not add to burdens borne by an industry facing international competition without clear justification. We should, if possible, proceed only with implementing agreed international standards and enforce those standards fairly. We are therefore selective in what we seek to regulate. That said, we believe that the Bill is justifiable, proportionate and essential.

First, I would like to explain why the Bill has been drafted so narrowly. We have deliberately produced a precise, targeted Bill to deal with specific problems relating to pollution from ships. I should add that it has been my intention throughout that we should try to move forward with it as consensually as possible.

Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): I am grateful to the Minister for giving way and I appreciate that he
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is about to outline the benefits of the Bill. There was talk some time ago of banning single-skin tankers. What is the state of play on that? Should we not focus on prevention rather than on clearing up the mess after an accident has happened?

Dr. Ladyman: I agree with the hon. Gentleman that prevention is vital. The phasing out of single-skinned vessels and their replacement with double-skinned ones is proceeding at a pace and needs to continue, but I do not believe that the Bill is an appropriate vehicle for measures such as those he describes for this reason, which I will flesh out in a moment. It is important to get the Bill on the statute book as quickly as possible. Without it we are exposed, and if there were a serious accident, we might be unable to compensate people as fully as they ought to be compensated.

Were we to move ahead with preventive measures in the same Bill, there would have to be further debate. Even if at the end of that debate we all agreed on those measures, there would be areas of controversy that would have to be resolved, which would delay the legislation getting on to the statute book. That is why we have gone for a precise target with the Bill. We have not tried to include things that are equally important or, as the hon. Gentleman suggests, perhaps even more so.

As I said, we have deliberately produced a precise, targeted Bill to deal with specific problems that relate to pollution from ships. In particular, we have provided for considerable additional compensation in the event of oil pollution around our coast. I shall go on to explain that further, but because such a large amount of compensation rests on this legislation, it is important to keep the Bill as focused as possible. That has resulted in a small Bill, which I hope we can get on the statue book as soon as possible.

Mr. Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con): Will the Minister comment on the definition of "pollution"? For example, does non-fuel oil such as olive oil fall within that category? Does "pollution" cover an oil that, in effect, has been solidified, such as grease?

Dr. Ladyman: I will certainly deal with those points, if not in this speech, then after seeking the leave of the House to make the winding-up speech.

As well as the issue of oil pollution around our coast—the Bill specifically deals with oil pollution—we have the opportunity to provide for an important measure to reduce air pollution from ships, which could not be missed. Again, international text for that exists, so we believe that it is possible to achieve agreement on a consensual way forward.

Merchant shipping legislation already contains provision to implement, by secondary legislation, most international maritime instruments. We already have powers to implement basic compensation for oil pollution, and we have secondary legislation in hand to implement compensation arrangements for chemical pollution and for pollution from ships' fuel—the so-called Bunkers convention.

The narrow purpose of the Bill is to close remaining gaps in our primary powers and to make adequate provision for future changes in the relevant international instruments. We therefore have before us a short, focused
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Bill whose purpose is to allow the UK to implement two important international treaties, one greatly to improve compensation for oil pollution and the other to introduce measures to reduce air pollution from ships.

On compensation for oil pollution, ours is an island state with a coastline of over 10,000 miles, so the Government are very conscious of the potential environmental impacts stemming from a major pollution incident. We are surrounded by a number of major shipping routes and the English channel is the world's second busiest international waterway, after the Malacca straits.

Marine oil pollution can have devastating effects. The public are familiar with the dreadful images of polluted coastlines and of oiled seabirds and mammals, but the effects go much further. The economies of coastal communities and their fishing and tourism industries can be shattered following a major oil spill. The costs to local authorities and the Government of responding to an oil spill can be exorbitant. Following the Torrey Canyon incident off Land's End in 1967, it was evident that the compensation arrangements were inadequate. That led to the development of an international system to ensure that victims of oil pollution damage would be fully and promptly compensated.

The resulting international regime was founded on two treaties: a liability convention, which made shipowners strictly liable for pollution damage and required them to maintain insurance, and a fund convention, which provided additional compensation to victims of oil pollution damage when they were unable to obtain full compensation under the liability convention. The additional compensation provided under the fund convention is paid for by oil receivers in state parties to the fund convention.

The original instruments have since been superseded, but the international regime remains in place and, to date, 98 states have joined it. Since it was established, the UK has experienced two further major incidents, involving the Braer off the Shetlands in January 1993 and the Sea Empress off Milford Haven in February 1996. The international fund provided compensation of £52 million in respect of the Braer and £37 million in respect of the Sea Empress.

The compensation available through the international system was significantly increased in 1996 and the basic regime now provides for an overall limit of £168 million of compensation.

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