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As I have already mentioned, the Bill would place a duty on the Secretary of State to “observe” certain “principles” in regulating ship-to-ship oil transfers, although on closer inspection all but one of these “principles” prove to be a duty to regulate in a particular way. Again, we consider this to be unnecessary and inappropriate, as the legislation referred to in the Bill either already applies and achieves what appear to be my hon. Friend’s objectives—as in the case of the habitats regulations—or is not suitable to apply to ship-to-ship transfers, a point raised by several hon.
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Members. For example, section 130 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995 already gives the Secretary of State the power to make regulations prohibiting ship-to-ship transfers of oil except in designated areas—paragraph (a) of the proposed new subsection 4A—and to take account of emergencies, which is in proposed new subsection 4A(e).

There is no need to define a ship-to-ship oil transfer as an “oil handling facility” with regard to the Merchant Shipping (Oil Pollution Preparedness, Response and Co-operation Convention) Regulations 1998—as proposed in subsection 4A(b) in my hon. Friend’s Bill—as the application of those regulations to such transfers is clear. An oil pollution emergency plan must be in place for every relevant harbour authority area and must be approved by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency as appropriate for dealing with any oil pollution incident that may occur, whether or not it occurs as a result of a ship-to-ship transfer and even if it occurs in an emergency.

Similarly, the application of the Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) Regulations 1994, as amended, to plans or projects that might adversely affect nature conservation sites—even in the event of an emergency—is already clear, and so paragraph (c) is also unnecessary.

Finally, paragraph (d) would allow the Secretary of State to classify a ship-to-ship oil transfer or a programme of such transfers as a surface storage of fossil fuels project for the purposes of the Marine Works (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations 2007, except in cases of emergency. I respectfully suggest that that is simply not appropriate. The regulations are not designed or drafted in a way that can be applied to operations such as ship-to-ship oil transfers. The regulations require environmental impact assessments to be carried out before consent is granted for certain regulated activities in UK waters and UK-controlled waters in cases where that is required to comply with Council directive 85/337/EC—the environmental impact assessment, or EIA, directive. The types of regulated activities to which the regulations apply are deposits in the sea, works to ensure navigational safety and harbour works.

Of course, we recognise that the framework under which ship-to-ship oil transfers are regulated needs to include appropriate measures to take account of their possible adverse environmental effects. I can also assure the House and my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith that we are investigating and will incorporate appropriate provisions on that matter in the draft regulations that we will bring before Parliament shortly.

I hope that I .have explained why my hon. Friend’s Bill would not achieve his objectives, as well as the fact that some of his objectives are already covered. I assure him that we intend to consult this spring and hope to introduce the new regulations in summer. I therefore hope that he will seek leave to withdraw his Bill.

2.1 pm

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): I apologise to the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz) for not being present to hear his opening remarks. I must confess that I was caught out by the
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speed at which the Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon) was dispatched. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on getting a place in the ballot. Having just heard the Minister’s rather devastating reply, I hope that I can provide some unexpected comfort to the Government. I am nervous about the philosophy behind the approach. I also want to raise one specific issue. I hope that it will be taken into account when the Minister lays the regulations before Parliament later in the year.

Let me first pick up on the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans), who said that Mr. Eric Forth, our much-lamented departed colleague, would have approved of the Bill. I can be reasonably confident that our late colleague would not have approved of the measure in any way, shape or form.

The Minister gave a devastating response, which made it clear that most of the powers proposed by the Bill are already available in one form or another.

Mark Lazarowicz: May I reassure the hon. Gentleman that had he been present for my opening speech—I understand that he was elsewhere—he would have heard that, although I accept the fact that the Government have the powers, I want to place a duty on them? That is what I was trying to do.

Mr. Blunt: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that explanation.

Let me turn to my philosophical objection to the Bill. The evil is the pollution caused by ship-to-ship transfer when oil pours into the sea because the transfer has not been conducted properly. I believe that we should be addressing the evil, not trying to rule out any potential cause of it. In normal circumstances, if ship-to-ship transfers were properly conducted, there would not be pollution. It is only when transfers take place incorrectly, either because they are badly managed by poor operators or because they happen by accident, that pollution occurs. It should be our duty not to rush round trying to find regulations and statutes to prevent people from doing anything that might cause something, but to address the cause of the evil. If there is pollution in British territorial waters caused by poor operations, we should be clear that it will be punished most severely because of all the consequences to birdlife, marine life and our coastlines. I find the Bill’s approach concerning.

My specific concern is about the effect of the Bill and the regulations on the Royal Navy and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Service. I believe that the Royal Navy is exempt from the Merchant Shipping Act 1995, but that the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Service is not. I am sure that hon. Members will correct me if I am wrong. There will be occasions on operations—perhaps when supporting fishery patrol vessels offshore close to British waters and especially when training—when ships of the Royal Navy and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary wish to make ship-to-ship transfers. I hope that when the Under-Secretary lays regulations before the House in the summer he will address that point and ensure that the Royal Navy can conduct operations and training if and wherever it deems it necessary. Training is obviously likely to be in British territorial waters. We should not impose extra burdens on the Royal Navy, because
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training is obviously important in sustaining the Navy around the world. We should not impose additional expense on the Ministry of Defence by forcing the Navy to sail even further away from its bases.

Jim Fitzpatrick: In 25 years, there has not been a single spillage during ship-to-ship transfers in Scapa Flow. The Maritime and Coastguard Agency has reviewed the figures for UK waters, and two minor incidents occurred, both before 1976. I do not believe that the danger to which the hon. Gentleman alludes is there, and we believe that the regulations will fulfil the objectives of my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz) in protecting the environment and—most important—the shipping industry. Delay in introducing the regulations could create additional uncertainty, which I am sure no hon. Member wishes to cause the shipping industry.

Mr. Blunt: I am grateful for that intervention, which suggests that the evil that we are trying to tackle is minor. Based on experience, the risk is minor. I would be horrified if the Royal Navy and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Service were not good at those operations. The scale, too, of the oil transfer is likely to be much smaller than for commercial operations.

Mr. Carmichael: The hon. Gentleman said that the risk was minor. I do not know whether he intended to say that but it should not be allowed to pass. The risk is substantial, but it can be managed and it has been successfully managed, especially in Scapa Flow, where, as the Under-Secretary said, that has happened for the past 25 years.

Mr. Blunt: The consequences of an accident, especially with serious pollution, would be appalling. However, I understood the Under-Secretary to say that the probability based on experience of its happening was small. The risk is therefore small, although the consequences would be catastrophic.

I agree with the Under-Secretary’s concerns about the Bill—I hope that that will not get me into trouble with my colleagues. He has heard my views about making the Royal Navy and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Service exempt from regulations.

2.8 pm

Angela Watkinson (Upminster) (Con): I apologise to you, Madam Deputy Speaker and to the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz) for not being present at the beginning of the debate.

I want to make two brief points. One arises from a letter from my constituent, Jillian Atkins, who is a regular correspondent on environmental matters. Her letter encapsulates the sentiments that most Members have expressed. We do not wish to prohibit ship-to-ship transfers, but we want to ensure that strict procedures and regulations are in place to prevent the potentially catastrophic impact of an oil spillage on seabird colonies and their habitats, and on coastlines and beaches.

The reference to coastlines and beaches led me to look more closely at proposed new section 130(4A)(c) of the 1995 Act, which is the only paragraph that does not refer to oil or oil products. When the hon. Member
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for Edinburgh, North and Leith winds up the debate, perhaps he will clarify whether that provision could include the discharging of bilge-water, which might contain non-indigenous or predatory species, which can have a significant effect on the indigenous species in our waters, particularly if bilges are discharged close to our coastline. I noticed that the provision did not refer specifically to oil products, so perhaps it was the hon. Gentleman’s intention to include other substances, too. The Minister referred to ship-based pollution, so I wonder whether contaminated bilge-water or bilge-water containing non-indigenous or predatory species could be included in those provisions.

2.11 pm

Mark Lazarowicz: With the leave of the House, this has been a wide-ranging debate. It would not be appropriate in the time available for me to try to respond to all the points that have been made. I heard what the Minister had to say and I take issue with some of his points. If we take the avenue that he suggested or if the Bill proceeds, it would be possible in the consultation process both for me and for all the organisations that are keen to see the legislation taken forward to take up those points.

Mr. Randall: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way and will not take up much of his time. Like him, I have been approached by many constituents who are members of the RSPB. I, too, am a member and have been for 45 years. In fact, I have written to myself in no uncertain terms in order that I be here to support the Bill. Is the hon. Gentleman happy and does he think that the RSPB will be happy with the reassurances that the Minister gave?

Mark Lazarowicz: My objective in promoting the Bill was to encourage the Government to bring forward regulations—indeed, the Bill would put an obligation on them to do so. I heard what my hon. Friend the Minister said. I am not interested in getting my name up in lights through a private Member’s Bill just for the sake of it; I want to get a result. If the Minister sticks to the time commitments that he has given, as I am sure he will, we could have regulations in place by the summer, which would be earlier than under the Bill. My wish is to bring those regulations forward.

I have spoken to RSPB Scotland, whose support for the Bill has been key. Its view is also that this debate should have a productive outcome, rather than going down in flames just for the sake of making a show. It is in the interests of the organisations that are keen to see the legislation come forward to have an early discussion and an early decision, and I am sure that that is in the interests of the shipping industry, too.

As the hon. Gentleman will therefore realise, although it is tempting to get a third private Member’s Bill under my belt—I have been more fortunate than him—and although that would take me some way towards the record of his predecessor, who I think had eight private Members’ Bills in his time, I want to get a result. Now that we have had our fun and games this Friday, I hope that hon. Members will appreciate that the important thing is to take the issue forward and to have a constructive debate in the consultative process. The Minister has given an assurance, which I know he
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will seek to fulfil, and Members on both sides of the House will no doubt monitor closely the way in which he does so.

In that spirit, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and Bill, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Following yesterday’s mini-reshuffle of the Cabinet and the separation of the posts of Secretary of State for Wales and Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, which I warmly welcome, could you advise the House on whether you have been given any indication that there is likely to be a ministerial statement concerning the logical follow-on to that: the separation of the posts of Secretary of State for Scotland and Secretary of State for Defence?

Madam Deputy Speaker: I have not been made aware that any Minister is about to make a statement today, or, indeed, on Monday.

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Disqualification from Parliament (Taxation Status) Bill

Order for Second Reading read.—[Queen’s Consent, on behalf of the Crown, signified.]

2.16 pm

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I am grateful to Her Majesty. This is a very short Bill, and I am going to make a very short speech, because I would like to hear the Minister’s response. The general principle behind the Bill is that those who make our laws should pay our taxes. There should be no representation without taxation, so to speak. People out there would be astonished to learn that there are Members of Parliament, legislating for the rest of us, who do not pay UK taxes. My short Bill would disqualify Members from the House of Commons and the House of Lords if they were not resident in the United Kingdom for tax purposes. Members of the Commons would declare their residency status once in every Parliament, but peers would have to certify annually that they were UK residents.

Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge) (Con): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Prentice: May I just make some progress?

People might ask why this provision is necessary. The House of Lords Appointments Commission identified the problem in its report for 2006-07. It concerns a Conservative peer and donor, Irvine Laidlaw, now Lord Laidlaw. He was ennobled in 2004 after promising to become a UK resident for tax purposes. Unfortunately, he reneged on that promise. This is all documented in the House of Lords Appointments Commission’s annual report. He is a tax exile, living in Monaco. Lord Stevenson, the Chair of the Commission, has written to the Prime Minister to flag up his concerns about this matter. In October last year he also told my colleague, the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright), who chairs the Public Administration Committee, that the commission was no longer prepared to accept assurances from people who do not pay UK taxes but would apparently do so some time in the future. He also said that it would no longer accept non-UK taxpayers as candidates for the peerage. Lord Laidlaw, who lives in Monaco, as I said, has now taken leave of absence from the House of Lords.

So, new rules are clearly needed, and they need to have a statutory basis. The irony is that the House of Lords Appointments Commission is not set up by statute and is, in a sense, making up the rules as it goes along. The House of Lords Appointments Commission decided after the Laidlaw case that it was not going to wave people through to a peerage if they were not UK taxpayers, but there is nothing in statute to address the problem and that applies only to new peers, not to existing ones. Clearly, there is a lacuna in the law.

There is, of course, great speculation about Lord Ashcroft. On his website, he says:

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No one really knows—he has not volunteered the information—whether Lord Ashcroft, a major donor to the Conservative party, is resident for tax purposes in the UK or in Belize. In 2004, in what I believe is called the House of Lords expenses register, he gave his main residence as Belize. He has repeatedly declined to say where he does reside and I do not know—no one here knows—whether he pays UK taxes.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): We have had “no taxation without representation” for many years and we now seem to be on “no representation without taxation”, which is an interesting change. I am an old seahorse when it comes to private Members’ Bills. Will the hon. Gentleman advise us whether in his discussions with the Minister he has been given any indication that his Bill has Government support?

Mr. Prentice: I hope that it has Government support and also that it gains support from all right-thinking people. Is it not amazing that anyone would want to justify membership of Parliament when the individual concerned is not a UK taxpayer? Of course I believe that the Government support my Bill. If it fails to make progress, I hope that the general principle will be gathered up in the omnibus constitutional reform Bill that the Government are bringing forward next month.

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield) (Con): The hon. Gentleman’s Bill clearly merits serious consideration. In drafting it, did he consider individuals such as Lord Kinnock or Lord Robertson of Port Ellen who, having been appointed to the House of Lords, moved on to fulfil overseas appointments? I have no direct evidence, but I suspect that that may well have affected their tax status, particularly if they are EU Commissioners. Does the hon. Gentleman intend such individuals to be disqualified and never able to return to this House? There is nothing in his Bill to suggest that by taking leave of absence, for example, it would be possible to escape permanent disqualification.

Mr. Prentice: Those are all important issues, which can be explored in Committee. I am perfectly prepared for my Bill to be amended in Committee to catch those categories of individuals who should not be serving in the legislature.

Let me finish on this point. The House of Lords Appointments Commission has registered its view and the Public Administration Committee, of which I am privileged to be a member, recommends a change along the lines that I have suggested. I would like to know the basis of the undertaking that Michael Ashcroft, now Lord Ashcroft, gave in 2000 before being elevated to the peerage. In March 2000, No. 10 Downing street issued a press release, which included this note to editors:

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