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Dr. Ladyman: I have reflected on that matter and I am now able to tell the hon. Gentleman that we would not normally board a vessel at sea. Should we wish to do so, we have powers under section 259 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995. Normally, we would wait for the ship to arrive at a UK port where it could be detained if necessary.

Tom Brake: I thank the Minister for that intervention. I see that he sometimes has difficulty in reflecting at speed, as I do, but I am glad that some clarification arrived as he was sitting on the Front Bench.

Hon. Members will be aware that there were 23 signatories to annexe VI of MARPOL in June, but the number might have moved on by a further five since then. The signatory countries range from Azerbaijan to Sweden to Vanuatu. I agree with Baroness Crawley that in coastal and port communities, human health benefits will result from the reduction of localised pollutants such as low-level ozone. She said:

That information is extremely helpful. Can the Minister tell us how many deaths and what costs have arisen since the point at which the annexe was available to be signed by the UK?

I promised not to detain the House at great length and I will be true to my word by bringing my speech to a conclusion. Liberal Democrats believe that the Bill will deal effectively with the matters that it is intended to address: the compensation available to cover the cost of oil spills and air pollution from shipping. The Bill will receive our support.
 
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2.11 pm

Mr. Robert Goodwill (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con): This is almost a case of déjà vu, because before I elected to this Parliament I was a Member of the European Parliament, where I got off on things like this. I took through some of the Euro IV legislation and the legislation on motor cycle emissions, N1 vehicles—vans—and small spark-ignition engines, such as those in lawn mowers and chain saws. I was pleased that we managed to save the chain saw for our foresters and farmers from legislation that would have meant that the engines' catalytic converters were too heavy and hot for practical use.

My swan song was my involvement in the regulation on the quality of marine fuel. That started with Mrs. Hautala, from the Green party, as rapporteur, and then Alexander de Roo, who is a Dutch Green, took over. May I put on the record my thanks to officials from the British Department for Transport, who were supportive during that time? I also thank the officials who were co-opted to the European Commission from the Department. By and large, we managed to follow the British line, although I could not say the same of my Labour colleagues in the European Parliament on every occasion. I would especially like to mention Chris Parkin, who was very supportive.

I welcome the Bill. As we have heard, marine transport is very efficient. A ship produces a quarter of the amount of carbon dioxide per tonne kilometre as a lorry. The UK is an island and we need cast our minds back only to the second world war to remember how the submarine blockade threatened the very survival of our nation. Although we have a connection to the French mainland through the tunnel and several pipelines—others are being built—we still rely primarily on our maritime transport for survival in the global economy. Many businesses cannot survive without access to global markets through our ports and merchant fleet.

Of course, maritime transport is not as environmentally benign in other ways. There have been improvements to vehicle technology due to several pieces of European legislation, such as the introduction of catalytic converters, common rail technology and more advanced engine management systems. There have been advances in fuels. There is a perennial battle between the manufacturers of vehicles and the manufacturers of fuels about who should be making moves to improve our environmental standards further. Such an argument also goes on in the area of marine engines.

Tremendous progress has been made on sulphur. In 2000, we reduced the amount of sulphur in diesel fuels for road vehicles to 350 parts per million. We now have a regulation to provide that the amount of sulphur is 50 ppm, and there are low-sulphur diesels on the market at 10 ppm. In fact, a new Ford Focus that operates on the hottest and most polluted day of summer in the middle of one of our big European cities is as likely as not to clean the environment once its catalytic converter has reached its operating temperature. We have thus moved an awfully long way.

On power generation, the dash for gas has reduced the use of coal, which can be dirty. Power stations, such as Drax in my area, have exhaust flue desulphurisation, which has reduced the amount of sulphur to such an
 
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extent that families such as mine now have to buy sulphur fertiliser because we no longer have a free supply of sulphur from above, courtesy of the Central Electricity Generating Board. Of course, we will have an opportunity this year further to reduce the pollution caused by power generation if we take the decision to build a new generation of nuclear power stations.

When the sulphur is removed from oil that is used for petrol and diesel—for road transport—we are left with bunker oil, which is notoriously high in sulphur. Even bunker oils that are derived from our pretty high quality North sea crudes can be between 2.5 and 3 per cent. sulphur, which is equivalent to 27,000 ppm of sulphur compared with the level of 10 ppm in the new advanced diesels. While we might not have such a big problem with our North sea crudes, many southern European states have serious problems with the crudes that they receive from Russia and Saudi Arabia, because their levels of sulphur may rise well above 3 per cent. Bunker fuels derived from crudes from the Gulf of Mexico can be 4 per cent. sulphur.

As we heard from the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake), by 2010 shipping will produce half the sulphur emissions in the European Union. The majority of that sulphur is not a major problem because it goes up at sea and falls down at sea. Some 80 per cent. of the sulphur dioxide emitted by a ship in the mid-Atlantic will go into the sea and its effects will be relatively benign. However, in MARPOL annexe VI sensitive areas in the English channel, the North sea and the Baltic, there is a specific problem due to high amounts of sulphur dioxide that is derived from our ships. Some 90 per cent. of the sulphur in some such coastal areas derives from shipping.

Despite the fact that ships might travel across the North sea, most of the shipping hugs the coast. For example, the North sea ferry from Hull to Zeebrugge does not go in a straight line, but hugs the coast. The pollution from such ships thus has a significant effect on coastal communities. I welcome the action that the Government are taking following European agreement on the MARPOL annexe VI sensitive areas. I am sure that it will considerably reduce the pollution that we      experience, which is becoming increasingly significant.

Pollution is also a significant problem when ships are in port. That can be called hotelling—I guess that it is not to be confused with cottaging. Ferries can cause a specific problem because they spend a lot of time in port. The Commission proposed that auxiliary engines should be run on 0.2 per cent. gas oil, but that has been a problem for some ferries, especially cross-channel ferries such as the Pride of Kent and the Pride of Canterbury. Those ferries spend about 50 per cent. of their time in port, so it would be especially expensive for them to use such low-sulphur fuel. I was thus pleased that when we considered the legislation in the European Parliament, we allowed trials to be held on the new Canadian-developed abatement technology that can reduce pollution at source and also contribute towards energy savings at refineries. The production of low-sulphur fuel has an environmental cost at the refinery, so if ships are fitted with seawater scrubbers, the pollution can be reduced at source. Not only would that reduce the sulphur dioxide that is derived from fuel, but it
 
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would make significant reductions in nitrogen oxide, which is derived not from the fuel, but from the nitrogen in the air that is in the engine's combustion chamber.

I hope that the Minister has seen the results of those two trials with the Pride of Kent and the Pride of Canterbury. The Pride of Kent is fitted with abatement technology, but the Pride of Canterbury—an identical ship—is not. If the technology is successful, there could be ways to encourage more ferry and shipping companies to fit it. It would also reduce the particulate matter from the engines, which can be a problem. Abatement technology also reduces volatile organic compounds.

Some countries have tried market-driven solutions to the problem. I am not sure whether the Minister is aware of the Swedish approach, which has a graduated system of port dues. Shipping companies that opt for even higher environmental standards receive rebates on the port dues. The British Government might want to consider that as a way of encouraging companies to go further. A similar scheme operates in Helsinki harbour.

Another option that was suggested when the directive was discussed was to encourage more ships to opt for an electric feed while in port. The Pride of York and the Pride of Hull spend all day in Hull harbour with their main engines ticking over and their auxiliary engines running. They may well benefit from plugging into the mains. Has the Minister received representations from the industry on how we can make progress on that?

On marine fuel and tankers, a practical problem in complying with the MARPOL annexe VI on sensitive areas is when a tanker leaves its home port in Saudi Arabia or wherever and finds that it is diverted to another port. I would be concerned if our security of supply were compromised because a ship had bunkered with high sulphur fuel and could not discharge in a UK or other European port. There is a problem with the discharge of tankers. I am sure that the Minister is aware that a tanker burns around 200 tonnes of heavy fuel oil in just raising steam to discharge. I have had representations from the tanker industry, which is concerned that many of the boilers fitted to those ships cannot be run on dual fuels. That may limit the number of tankers that could discharge in the UK without expensive retrofitting.

Perhaps I can crave your indulgence for a second, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and address the issue of fuels for recreational pleasure craft. I am sure that the Minister is aware that we benefit from a derogation to allow such craft to use rebated fuel, and that that runs out at the end of they year. I was in correspondence with him last year to encourage him to apply for a renewal of that derogation. Having reflected on that, I hope that he will make an announcement fairly soon. I am sure that the European Commission will look favourably on such an application. It would reassure many of the people in my constituency who enjoy recreational activities on the sea.

A couple of years ago, I went to Galicia to see the effects of the Prestige disaster. I was not prepared for what I saw. The word "devastation" does not describe the black hell of the beaches in Galicia. Hundreds volunteered to clean it up, and many of those came from
 
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all over Spain. They wore those white overalls that we saw on our television screens. That brought home to me the extent of the disaster and how we cannot allow it to happen again.

We must not forget that the Prestige disaster was a result of a catalogue of mistakes. First and foremost, there was a major mix-up between central and regional government. I am slightly concerned that, in one way or another, we are moving to regional government in this country. I would hate to think that we could have a similar mix-up. The people in Galicia thought that it was up to them to decide how to act, but the people in Madrid thought that it was their responsibility. In the end, vital hours were lost at the start. Instead of bringing the Prestige into a safe haven and putting a boom around it, which would have caused considerable devastation but on a small scale, the ship was ordered out to sea, where it broke up and damaged 250 miles of coast, with devastating effects on tourism, fishing and wildlife.

Some 63,000 tonnes of heavy oil escaped from the Prestige and important oyster beds in France were devastated. In addition, 250,000 sea birds were killed. Some 90 species made up the 23,000 that were collected, and 17,000 of those were already dead. We often see pictures of birds being cleaned or treated in centres, but I am sad to have to relate that the majority of those birds die anyway, having ingested fuel. Having spoken to some of the bird charities, I know that they think that they must do something, but perhaps we should not expend too much money on birds that are, sadly, a lost cause, and put more resources into ensuring that a spillage is quickly contained so that we do not repeat the mistakes of the Spanish.

I note the comments by my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) about boats that can be described as freeloaders—those that sail under a flag of convenience. The Prestige was an accident waiting to happen. It was a rust bucket. I was led to believe that it was registered in the Bahamas, but I bow to my hon. Friend's better knowledge. It was registered by a British broker. It had a Filipino crew and a Greek captain. The ship was owned by a Liberian firm, but was controlled by a Greek shipping magnate. The oil was being ferried from Latvia to Singapore. The oil itself was owned by a    Gibraltar-based firm, with a headquarters in Switzerland run by a Russian parent company. No wonder something went wrong.

Does the Minister have information on what percentage of the world fleet falls into the category of using a flag of convenience and does not comply with the same standards as we do? What proportion of the ships that enter British waters would fall into that category? I am concerned that another Prestige is waiting to happen. It is only by the grace of God that such a disaster has not happened more often in our waters, with devastating effects.

2.28 pm


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