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Stephen Hammond (Wimbledon) (Con): The Minister said in his opening remarks that the Bill was precise and targeted, and it is. Essentially, it provides the United Kingdom with protection and the best compensation in relation to pollution from oil, and reduces air pollution from ships. We support the UK getting protection from the supplementary fund protocol.
The Bill deals with our environment, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) reaffirmed recently in an excellent speech that the Conservative party has a long history and a bright future in environmental matters. That is certainly true todayit is 30 to the Opposition on environmental matters.
I look forward to the Minister's response to the three excellent points made in interventions by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight). He asked for clarification of the definition of pollution in the Bill, and whether it would extend to non-fuel oil and oils that have formed a solid. Perhaps more importantly, he asked for confirmation that the Bill would not act retrospectively to prevent the usage of historical vessels in regattas. I am sure that the Minister will provide clarification in his winding-up speech.
I also want to return to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) in his opening remarks. What pressure might be applied to non-signatories of the supplementary fund protocol? While non-signatory country vessels might have insurance, they will not have enough insurance to deal with major spillages. We welcome the fact that the fund will pay out, but will the Minister explore what pressure might be exerted by the Government on non-signatories, who are nothing more than freeloaders, to sign up?
We have had an excellent debate. I did wonder whether my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr. Goodwill) started his speech injudiciously by saying that he got off on things like this. When I remembered that he was a Conservative, not a Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament, I knew that he would talk only about matters environmental and nothing more inappropriate. He brings his extensive experience in the European Parliament to the mother of Parliaments.
My hon. Friend raised some interesting questions. He referred to the high level of sulphur dioxide that is emitted from shipping in coastal areas around the UK, and welcomed the Government measures, as we do. He also referred to shipping in port, the need to fit seawater scrubbers, and the efficacy of those mechanisms. I trust that the Minister will have noted the distinction that he drew between the Pride of Kent and the Pride of Canterbury. Perhaps he will want to reflect on that when he replies to the debate. My hon. Friend also expressed his desire to see the renewal of the derogation for leisure craft. I know that he has written to the Minister about that, and the hon. Gentleman might wish to comment on that in his reply to the debate.
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My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Scott) reminded us all of the potential threat to the UK coastline and of the need for coherent and co-ordinated international action against pollution to stop the damage to wildlife and local industry. He pointed out that despite many improvements in safety measures, one in 12 vessels inspected in the UK is unseaworthy, and most of them appear to be from non-signatories of the supplementary fund protocol. Again, he asked whether the Government should take some action in that respect or ban non-signatories from sovereign waters or ports. I look forward to the Minister's comment on that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (David T.C. Davies), who is another of the excellent 2005 club additions to the Opposition Benches, made a contribution based on his considerable experience of the shipping industry. He pointed out that, over many years, several improvements have been secured under Governments of both hues. He stressed that that was not grounds for complacency, and spoke about the importance of safety measures on some vessels and the need for better training. He also stressed both that shipping was the green way of moving most goods and the environmental importance of that. To digress slightly, the Government have not addressed the issue of a northern rail link for freight through the midlands to Felixstowe. Such a link would continue the green trend, but freight continues to be moved by road rather than rail.
The debate has been short but excellentit has been one of quality not quantity. I confirm that the Opposition support the Bill. We are prepared to do all that we can to ensure that it moves expeditiously through the House.
This has been an enjoyable debate. I am delighted, for the first time, to cross swords with some of the new Conservative Members, who made knowledgeable and authoritative speeches. Given that they all seem to be so knowledgeable and authoritative, I hope that none of them is available for consideration of the Bill in Committee, to guarantee that I have an easy time. I suspect that they have cooked their goose and they are on the list of Members who will be on the Committee, whether they like it or not.
Before I go into some of the detailed questions specifically, I should like to respond to the comment made by the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) about the instruction that, rightly, Mr. Speaker has ruled out of order. Effectively, it would have allowed the Harbours Bill, a private Member's Bill that is currently being guided through the House by my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Gwyn Prosser), to be included within the scope of the Bill. I believe that Mr. Speaker was right to rule that that would not have been an appropriate mechanism for inclusion. However, the Government offer full support to the Harbours Bill and we are keen to see it make progress. If there is any way that we can facilitate its progress by working with the Opposition, I will be keen to explore it.
Dr. Ladyman: I shall address some of the specific issues that were raised by various Members. I agree with the hon. Member for Monmouth (David T.C. Davies) about the training of ships' officers and the need for high international standards of training and competence. That important requirement bears directly on the threat to our coastline. We try to work within the International Maritime Organisation to raise the standards of shipping generally. Indeed, one of the things that we must do to raise standards and to reduce the threat of pollution to our coastline is to show leadership within that organisation. That goes back to the issue raised by the hon. Member for Canterbury and by other hon. Members. To prevent pollution, we are showing such leadership in a number of areas. For example, within the IMO, we have started to move forward on the introduction of e-navigation. We are trying to create an international standard whereby all ships on the high seas will work with electronic navigation systems to the same standard. Those systems will work together and allow ships to be recognised from the shore and to recognise one another while at sea, to avoid collisions and groundings. There is a great deal of support for that work within the IMO, and I hope that we can reach agreement on a standard for e-navigation.
We have also shown strong leadership within the IMO's flag state audit scheme under which a flag state agrees to have the quality of its fleet audited. I am proud to say that we were the first state to support the scheme and to commit the UK fleet to being audited. Also, we were the first state to promise that, once that audit is complete and we are ready to respond to it, we will make it public. That demonstrates our strong leadership in raising standards. A number of other states have responded to our lead by saying that not only will they have their fleets audited, but they will consider making the audits public. By adopting such a positive approach, we are doing what we can to raise international standards.
Mr. Brazier: The Minister has been generous in giving way. We welcome what he has just said, but he still has not addressed the issue of freeloaders in that context and that of the new protocol. What are we doing about Liberia, Panama and other such countries?
Dr. Ladyman: Short of invading them, all we can do is engage with them diplomatically. I encourage Opposition Members to be realistic about what I can and cannot do. All I can do is to engage with these countries, to speak to their Ministers and to raise these issues with themand I do. We show leadership through the IMO and use international agreements to drag up standards generally. In the world of shipping, we cannot make unilateral decisions that put our industry at a commercial disadvantage to the rest of the world. The best way to progress is through international agreements, and that is what we are trying to reach. We will continue to do the best that we can to get those countries to engage.
We should not assume automatically that because those flag states are just that, flag states, they are not alive to some of the issues with which we are dealing.
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Some of them are considering closely the idea of being part of the audit scheme. We are helping them to make that decision. Other states, although they may be very small places, operate to high standards under their flags and work with other major nations to ensure that their flag fleet is properly inspected.
The hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Scott) asked whether I would agree to a proposal under which we would deny entry into UK ports to vessels that are flagged in states that are not party to the supplementary fund protocol. I suppose that that echoes the issue raised by the hon. Member for Canterbury. I do not think that such action is necessary. It does not matter if a vessel is flagged in a state that is not party to the supplementary fund protocol because that vessel must have insurance to cover the shipowner's liability. That is a requirement for entry into a UK port. In addition, we benefit from membership of the protocol because we are the ones who will get the money from it should that be necessary.
I was asked by the hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr. Goodwill) whether we were considering other issues such as ships at berth using mains electricity or cold ironing, as it is known. I have not received any representations on that, but it is being considered by the UK and other states in the context of sustainable shipping. I will continue to keep an eye on it.
During the debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Glenrothes (Mr. MacDougall) asked about estuarine damage to the Firth of Forth, and other hon. Members asked about the possibility of compensation should there be damage to estuaries. I replied that I was confident that the various funds available would cover us. I can now confirm that that is the case. Money can be paid from the supplementary fund if the damage is caused as a result of a sea-going vessel being involved in an incident.
The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) asked about the total size of the fund and why we have negotiated a pot that is less than the damage from the Prestige is estimated to cost. That is an unfortunate side effect of the fact that it takes so long to agree such an international convention. When we set out to get states to be a party to the convention, the US$1 billion mark was far more than we thought would be necessary. Subsequently we found that even that was too little, but that is the sum available. After we get all the parties signed up, we need to address that issue.
I do not want to mislead the hon. Gentleman. He noted in his comments that the level of funding seems to have changed by a few million pounds since the debate in the other place. [Interruption.] That, as the hon. Member for Canterbury says from a sedentary position, is down to exchange rates. The amount of money available in the supplementary fund is intended to be 750 million of a unit used by the International Monetary Fund to reflect the average value of currencies across the world. It more or less works out to US$1 billion, but according to how the various currencies move, from time to time it will be 600 million, 602 million or 612 million. The figures that I quoted in my speech are based on the level of the exchange rates on 1 January this year, which are the latest figures available.
I was asked by the hon. Member for Canterbury about the EC directive that criminalises seafarers for accidental pollution. I share his concerns about that.
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We are working with EU colleagues on how that should be addressed. He also asked what we are doing to expand the UK shipping industry. He rightly gave credit to the Government for the increase in the size of the British fleet as a result of the tonnage tax. I remind him that the training commitment that comes with the tonnage tax means that in 2005 and 2006 there are 1,300 UK trainees in cadet ships, so there are many benefits from the tax. I will shortly make an announcement about how I intend to move forward on issues related to the tax to continue to encourage the UK fleet to expand.
The right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight) asked me about historic vessels. I am not sure that I will be able to convince him 100 per cent. today, but I undertake to look into the matter further for him. There is no specific exemption for historic vessels, but our view is that they will probably not be affected by the MARPOL convention because they do not use the sort of fuels and engines that generate such pollutants. However, I expect the right hon. Gentleman is not entirely satisfied with that answer, so I shall write to him or, if he serves on the Standing Committee, we can discuss it there.
A number of other issues were raised with me by various Members. The hon. Members for Kettering (Mr. Hollobone) and for Canterbury spoke about other measures we might take to reduce the threat of pollution. The hon. Member for Kettering asked me why we did not include in the Bill measures to replace single hull vessels with double skin vessels. We do not need to do so because the Merchant Shipping (Prevention of Oil Pollution) (Amendment) Regulations 2005 already implement that change. The IMO is engaged on various measures to improve standards, including the issue of ballast water. A ballast water convention was agreed at the IMO in 2004.
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