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David T.C. Davies : My hon. Friend will no doubt be aware that the largest oil tanker ever to be built will be registered in Majuro, the capital of the Marshall islands. Many people will not know where that is, and I admit that I had to look it up myself, even though I worked in shipping for many years.

Mr. Brazier: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that, and he is right to be concerned. I mean no reflection on that particular ship, but some of the most unseaworthy vessels on the high seas belong to the fleets that I mentioned. For instance, the Prestige, which sank in 2002 and caused a great deal of chaos, was registered in Cyprus' large offshore register. At least Cyprus is applying for EU membership, which means that there will be more scope to deal with the problem that its register poses.

Dr. Ladyman: I want to deal with the point about ships registered in the Marshall islands. We must be careful not to suggest that, just because a place is small, it does not have a high quality flag. Many smaller nations with large fleets have high standards, but all vessels must be insured to cover their liability for any pollution that might be caused, and no uninsured vessel should be in our waters or come near our shores. The Government have powers to deal with any uninsured vessel travelling through our waters. The supplementary fund would be available to pay compensation as a result of accidents caused in our waters by uninsured vessels. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that, because some countries have not signed up to the fund, the burden will fall on the signatory countries. However, there are 98 signatories, so at least the burden will be spread out among them.

Mr. Brazier: We have come full circle, as I said earlier that the countries that have not signed up to the fund are freeloading on the rest. Britain has set a positive example by joining the supplementary fund, but the Opposition would welcome measures, perhaps in the long term, to put pressure on countries such as Panama and Liberia to sign up to the fund so that they can bear their share of the burden.

I come now to the MARPOL convention. At present, ships account for 4 per cent. of global sulphur emissions and roughly 7 per cent. of nitrogen emissions. New
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technologies can reduce those figures substantially. Recently, P&O installed the new Krystallon water scrubber in the Pride of Kent—great name, good ship—and announced that there were "no measurable" sulphur emissions from the vessel, while nitrogen oxide emissions had fallen by 80 per cent. That is a really good example of how new technologies to reduce the levels of dangerous chemicals being pumped into the atmosphere can play such a big role. It is vital that companies with the financial base to test new inventions are given as much encouragement to do so as possible. Targets to cut emissions are an important part of the campaign against global warming, but they will be reached much more easily if there is also a focus on new technology.

The figures also show that transport by boat for both goods and passengers is considerably more environmentally friendly than transport by road. In Britain, light and heavy goods vehicles pump out an estimated 8.2 million tonnes of carbon dioxide each year. In contrast, our entire domestic shipping industry, which carries 95 per cent. of the goods traded with Britain, produces less than 1 million tonnes a year.

Occasionally, hon. Members find time to sip a drink on the Terrace. Each tug that we see pulling a large barge behind it carries enough waste to take 100 lorries off the road. The barges carrying cement up the Thames save 5,000 lorry journeys a year. The more transport we can shift on to vessels, the fewer road freight journeys will be made and the whole system would benefit. Fewer vehicles on the road mean less pollution and less congestion. I hope that the Government are giving serious thought to how to promote what is potentially by far the greenest form of transport.

Two matters are not, unfortunately, covered in the Bill. Because of an entirely understandable ruling by Mr. Speaker, we will not have an opportunity to debate in Committee the measures that would have been in the Bill on port capacity. They are too far removed from this subject, but it is vital that something is done to address our shortage of port capacity and the farcical arrangements for public inquiries on that. As my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) pointed out, the Bill on marine issues was promised in the Queen's Speech and is a close cousin to this Bill—saving bird life is, after all, one of the main aims of this Bill—but the Government still have not found time for it.

Nonetheless, we congratulate the Government on this Bill and hope that it will be the first of several steps to promote safety on the high seas, protect our coastline from pollution and promote greener technologies in our excellent merchant navy. I commend the Bill to the House.

2.1 pm

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): I also welcome the opportunity to debate this short Bill and wish to echo the Minister's comments about Lord Donaldson. I also welcome the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) to his first outing on the subject of merchant shipping. I do not anticipate that the Bill will detain the House until late this evening because it commands all-party support. It will not need any Punch and Judy politics—although I was interested to note that Punch and Judy were back at Prime Minister's questions earlier.
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In the other place, the Bill was dispatched in just over an hour and a half. Peers received no approaches from lobbyists and suggested that the Bill was uncontroversial. I concur with that assessment and do not wish to delay matters and leave the UK vulnerable in the way that the Minister spelled out in his opening remarks. The main purpose of the Bill is to allow the UK to implement two important international treaties. The first would greatly improve compensation for oil spills and the second would introduce measures to reduce air pollution from ships. A further minor purpose is a useful clarification of the claim period during which compensation claims can be made.

I come now to the supplementary fund protocol. The present regime, the liability convention, now includes 98 member states, although at the time of the debate in June 2005 it had 93 signatories. The present regime provides for an overall limit of £168 million of compensation. At the time of the debate last June, it was £160 million or £162 million. The present figure, £168 million, is compensation paid for by ship owners and oil importers. In the past 25 years, the regime has provided compensation in more than 130 oil pollution incidents. The Bill makes provision for the UK to implement the supplementary fund protocol and make available an additional £440 million for compensation in the event of a major oil spill from a tanker.

The fund was developed to provide additional compensation for victims of oil pollution in states that choose to ratify the protocol and are content for their oil industries to make the financial contributions. It was helpful of the Minister to clarify the point raised by the hon. Member for Canterbury and confirm that the UK, if it is affected by an oil spill involving a vessel that is not covered, will still be able to access the full funding available in the supplementary fund. The total amount, taking into account the existing fund and the supplementary fund, will be £600 million-plus.

The supplementary fund entered into force in March last year and has so far been ratified by 15 states. By June 2005, it had been ratified by only 10—Japan and nine states in Europe—and that underlines the Minister's legitimate concerns that the UK should join the club. Membership is now growing rapidly and we support the Government in their desire to ensure that the UK has the additional financial protection that the supplementary fund can provide.

In the other place, Baroness Crawley described the fund as follows:

My party also subscribes to that principle. The Bill will also ensure that the costs of funding compensation are shared by major oil importers internationally, rather than falling on national budgets. The Bill will also allow the UK to join any future regime governing oil pollution compensation.

I wish to return briefly to the polluter pays principle. I intervened on the Minister on the subject of the Prestige and the fact that the estimate of the damage is
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more than £700 million, whereas the supplementary fund, together with the original fund, will cover only just over £600 million. What is the thinking behind setting up a fund that does not have sufficient funds to cover an incident that has already taken place? That is rather illogical, and one would have expected agreement to be reached that the fund would have in it at least as much as would be required to cover such an incident. I hope that the Minister will be able to clarify the thinking on that when he winds up.

Air pollution from ships is not something to be sniffed at—if hon. Members will pardon the pun. Emissions from shipping are set to be larger than emissions from all UK land-based sources by 2020, according to a report from the European Parliament's Environment Committee. We therefore support the measures that allow the UK to implement annexe VI of the international convention on the prevention of pollution from ships, commonly known as the MARPOL convention. I intervened on the Minister on that point and, when he sums up, I hope that he will be able to give more detail on what the implementation of MARPOL will mean in terms of the actions that UK port authorities can take when vessels dock in UK ports. Does the UK have powers to board ships to check whether they have the insurance required under the liability convention, as the Minister implied? If a dirty-looking steamer came over the horizon, would the UK have powers to board that vessel to see whether it complied—

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