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Session 2008 - 09
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Public Bill Committee Debates

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: John Bercow
Brazier, Mr. Julian (Canterbury) (Con)
Donohoe, Mr. Brian H. (Central Ayrshire) (Lab)
Fitzpatrick, Jim (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport)
Hunter, Mark (Cheadle) (LD)
Kilfoyle, Mr. Peter (Liverpool, Walton) (Lab)
Leech, Mr. John (Manchester, Withington) (LD)
Marsden, Mr. Gordon (Blackpool, South) (Lab)
Moss, Mr. Malcolm (North-East Cambridgeshire) (Con)
Newmark, Mr. Brooks (Braintree) (Con)
Slaughter, Mr. Andy (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush) (Lab)
Snelgrove, Anne (South Swindon) (Lab)
Streeter, Mr. Gary (South-West Devon) (Con)
Tami, Mark (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab)
Turner, Mr. Andrew (Isle of Wight) (Con)
Vis, Dr. Rudi (Finchley and Golders Green) (Lab)
Wyatt, Derek (Sittingbourne and Sheppey) (Lab)
Celia Blacklock, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee

Fourth Delegated Legislation Committee

Tuesday 20 January 2009

[John Bercow in the Chair]

Draft Merchant Shipping and Fishing Vessels (Port Waste Reception Facilities) (Amendment) Regulations 2009.
10.30 am
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Jim Fitzpatrick): I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the draft Merchant Shipping and Fishing Vessels (Port Waste Reception Facilities) (Amendment) Regulations 2009.
It is a pleasure, Mr. Bercow, to see you presiding over our business today, and I hope that I shall not detain the Committee too long. I would first like to set the regulations in their context, which is the protection of the marine environment from ship-generated waste.
Ships must be able to discharge their waste at reception facilities available at ports. Those facilities must be easy to use and cost-effective to deter operators from disposing of their wastes at sea. Recognising that need, the United Kingdom has had legislation in place for many years to put that principle into effect. After the UK put its legislation in place, a proposal for European Community legislation was initiated. The Government played an active role in the development of that measure, and the outcome was directive 2000/59/EC on port waste reception facilities.
The directive placed a responsibility on ports to provide adequate facilities for the disposal of waste and a responsibility on ship operators to deliver that waste, rather than dispose of it at sea. The ship-generated wastes that fall under the directive are oily water, garbage and sewage. The directive was transposed into the UK by the Merchant Shipping and Fishing Vessels (Port Waste Reception Facilities) Regulations 2003. Article 16 of the directive stated that the implementation of the directive in respect of sewage should be suspended until 12 months after the entry into force of annexe IV to the international convention on the prevention of pollution by ships, commonly known as MARPOL. That annexe is now in force, so we are able to implement the remaining part of the directive. That is the purpose of the regulations before us.
The regulations also transpose EC directive 2007/71, which amends the notification form that ships’ masters are required to fill in and send to the harbour authority before they enter the port, indicating what quantities of which types of waste they are planning to deliver through ports. Although the transposition date for that directive is June 2009, we have taken the decision to transpose it early as we hope and expect that it will bring welcome clarity for the industry on the provision for disposal of sewage at sea.
Mr. Peter Kilfoyle (Liverpool, Walton) (Lab): My hon. Friend is talking about ships disposing of waste, but what happens in the case of a deep-sea vessel, such as a tramp steamer that is going from port to port in exotic parts of the world? Are they expected to account for that waste in those waters, or are we talking about European waters?
Jim Fitzpatrick: I understand that my hon. Friend is in a jolly good mood this morning after events at Anfield yesterday evening, which accounts for his enthusiasm for this morning’s Committee proceedings. I can assure him that the tramp steamers to which he has referred are covered by MARPOL: provided that ships are steaming at a particular rate of knots and are a certain distance from coast lines, they are able to dispose of, and discharge, their wastes at sea. The regulations relate to ships coming into port that do not have that facility, because they are not travelling at that distance or at that speed. That will perhaps become a little clearer later in my opening remarks. I hope that that satisfies my hon. Friend.
Regulation 1 confirms the title and the enforcement date of the regulations. The regulations will come into force 14 days after the day on which they are made, allowing time for guidance to be issued and forewarning the industry that the new regime is coming into force. The industry has been consulted extensively and it is fully aware of the new regime. Regulation 2 details the amendments to the 2003 regulations, including adding sewage to the definition of ship-generated waste. Sewage is defined as
“drainage and other wastes from any form of toilets or urinals,...drainage from medical premises...via wash basins, wash tubs and scuppers located in such premises,...drainage from spaces containing living animals, or...other waste waters when mixed with any drainage”
referred to previously.
A requirement of the 2003 regulations was for ships to deliver their waste to port reception facilities before leaving port. There is none the less a provision for ships to be able to keep their waste on board and to proceed to the next port of call if they have sufficient storage capacity for the waste accumulated during its voyage. In the case of sewage, ships can leave port with sewage stored, with the intention of taking it to the next port or discharging it at sea in accordance with MARPOL. That is reflected in the amending regulations. In cases where the ship’s master intends to discharge sewage at sea, the harbour authority does not have to be notified of the quantities of sewage in the ship’s holding tanks.
As mentioned earlier, directive 2007/71/EC necessitates an amendment to the notification form in schedule 2 to the 2003 regulations to include sewage. The amending regulations reflect that change and provide desirable clarity for the industry as to when sewage may be discharged at sea. There are other consequential or minor changes to the 2003 regulations. In particular, the 2003 regulations referred to EC member states. The reference in the regulations before us has been updated so that it refers to European economic area states.
The regulations before the Committee take account of the consultation exercises that we have carried out, as well as discussions with the European Commission and other member states. The Department conducted a full public consultation exercise in 2005 and a further exercise in 2008. In conclusion, we do not anticipate that the proposals will involve significant costs to the industry. Many operators already have systems in place for the treatment and disposal of ship-generated sewage, and we expect that to continue. As a result of the regulations, there should be no additional cost to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency in respect of the enforcement regime or the administration of the port waste regime. I commend the regulations to the Committee.
10.37 am
Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Mr. Bercow.
The Minister opened with a very clear timeline, so I will not detain the Committee by repeating what he said. However, that takes me to my first, and principal, question, which is why now? We are all in favour of cleaning up the environment, and the measures taken on other forms of waste—oily water and garbage—are welcome. However, I am not absolutely clear as to why the Minister has chosen to deal with sewage at this particular point.
The basic requirement to manage ship-generated sewage was, as the Minister reminded the Committee, mentioned in the original directive in 2000, along with other forms of waste. The natural inference would be that that delay had allowed ports to prepare sewage reception facilities. Having done a bit of digging around, however, I have found that that is not actually the case. In its reply to the 2008 consultations on these measures, the Chamber of Shipping stated:
“An informal survey of the smaller UK ports with regards to the collection of sewage from ships revealed that very few have any shore based reception facilities nor had they any plans to install suitable size tanks ashore.”
That letter was dated July 2008.
Secondly, have the Government assessed all UK ports to ascertain whether they have the facilities to process the sewage that this statutory instrument deals with? Thirdly, can the Government provide the Committee with any information on which ports have the facilities in place, which ports have not and what traffic flows currently go through the ports that do not have facilities? Is it a very small quantity of traffic in the smaller ports or not?
As the explanatory notes that helpfully accompany this statutory instrument point out, the regulations before us amend the 2003 regulations to give effect to the original 2000 directive. The directive is quite specific in what it tries to do and what it expects of signatory countries:
“Adequate port reception facilities should meet the needs of users from the largest merchant ship to the smallest recreational craft, and of the environment”.
Article 4 states:
“Member states shall ensure the availability of port reception facilities adequate to meet the needs of the ships normally using the port”.
What penalties might ports that are unable to fulfil the regulations expect, given that this issue has been on the agenda since 2000, and the terms of the original directive and the unamended parts of the 2003 regulations are so specific? Are we passing the amendment for the sake of passing it, or will there be penalties?
“The only alternative for ship owners needing to deposit sewage is to hire a sewage tanker”.
It also put in an estimated cost:
“On the assumption that a ship’s holding tank is 5,000 litres, the normal day cost (Mon-Fri) is £385 and if collection is during the weekend the cost rises to £582. If the storage tank is 15,000 litres the cost incurred (Mon-Fri) is £600.00 and at the weekend £933.00. To put this into context the general cost for galley waste is between £50-£100 per call depending on the port. To convert a vessel to be able to hold these amounts and hence avoid the port charges at those ports where a road tanker would be required would cost around £2,500 given the extra pipe work, pump and tank requirements”.
It is difficult to exaggerate how desperate the plight of the industry is, and that desperate position has come almost out of the blue, as the Minister knows even better than I; the industry was healthy a relatively short time ago. Freight rates today for containers shipped from Asia to Europe have, in some cases, hit zero, with customers paying only bunker rates and terminal charges to keep the ships on the move. The Baltic dry index, which measures freight rates for bulk commodities, has fallen 96 per cent., to 4 per cent. of its previous levels.
In such a desperate environment, UK ports are under severe pressure from foreign competition. Our competitors on the continent are not charging fees such as light duties. As the Minister knows, we have had a number of exchanges on that subject. If I bang on about it, Mr. Bercow, you will remind me that it falls outside the statutory instrument. Nevertheless, ships visiting the ports that we are competing with do not pay such fees. Such is the context in which any additional and unnecessary cost pressures on UK ports have to be measured. Have the Government made any assessment of the likely cost of amending the current regulations to UK ports and to shipping lines?
The discussion of compliance and penalties for failure to comply logically leads us to the issue of enforcement. The amendments will affect not only larger shipping interests—the strict area of the Department’s responsibility that concerns the Minister and me—but two other categories of shipping: recreational yachts, not all of which are owned by wealthy people, and fishing vessels. Fishing is another industry that is in a desperate plight at the moment. Will the Minister tell us how the regulations will be policed and enforced with regard to fishing boats and yachts?
On the more general theme of reducing ship-generated pollution to our seas, the explanatory notes accompanying the amended regulations state that they
“allow not only for large ships which are subject to MARPOL to discharge their sewage...but also for fishing vessels and small vessels”
10.46 am
Mr. John Leech (Manchester, Withington) (LD): I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Bercow. We broadly welcome the regulations and hope not to be as sceptical as the hon. Member for Canterbury. There are clear benefits to the regulations, as providing adequate facilities at ports to deliver ship-generated sewage will help to tackle pollution in our seas. However, I have a couple of questions for the Minister, following those asked by the hon. Member for Canterbury.
In the explanatory memorandum, we are told that there will be a greater impact on the smaller ports than on the larger ports, but that the impact is not considered to be disproportionate. Will the Minister tell the Committee how many of those smaller ports lack available facilities or a contract for sewage reception? Has any representation been received from ports concerned about the possible cost of implementing the regulations, through introducing facilities or making contracts available for ships?
We are advised in the explanatory notes that very few ships are expected to make use of the sewage reception facilities. Given that smaller vessels will be exempt from the requirement to pay an “irrespective of use” charge, does the Minister accept that the limited number of ships using the facilities and paying on a commercial basis may—and I emphasise the word “may”—end up having to pay higher charges to cover the costs, however limited, that the ports have incurred in providing those facilities? Notwithstanding those two questions—and I hope that the Minister can provide clarification—we are happy to support the regulations.
10.48 am
Mr. Kilfoyle: Can I add to the question by the hon. Member for Canterbury regarding the issue of enforcement? In Liverpool bay, towards the Irish sea, there are still effluent discharge pipes. Ships coming into the River Mersey will often anchor overnight at the Mersey bar. Will the Minister explain how it is possible to monitor whether a ship’s captain decides to discharge sewage there? Certainly, it would be of interest to smaller vessels, because in the current economic circumstances, putting a relatively small amount of sewage into port might make a big difference to the cost of a trip.
10.50 am
Jim Fitzpatrick: All ships will be required to complete a pro-forma on their way into port. The Maritime and Coastguard Agency will have responsibility for enforcement, so there will be monitoring of ships’ activities.
I will come on to the enforcement question raised by the hon. Member for Canterbury. He also asked about the delay in the introduction of various elements of the statutory instrument. We needed to clarify the Commission’s understanding of the rule regarding delivery of sewage to port before leaving. The letter of the directive stated that ships were required to do so, but the industry argued that that was unreasonably costly. We obtained confirmation and agreement that ships do not always need to deliver sewage when they enter or leave port, provided that they give documentary evidence to show what their capacity is, where they are going and how they intend to dispose of their waste product in line with MARPOL, as opposed to having to comply with the regulations under discussion.
The hon. Gentleman also asked about the number of ports that have applied, as did the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington. Some 1,800 plans were submitted to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency for approval, but a considerable number were for sites whose level of use did not require statutory port waste management planning, including, for example, small boat yards and jetties Such plans were not formally approved by the MCA, but owners were advised that it was good practice to have schemes in place. In total, the MCA approved nearly 1,100 plans, which are now in place, for sites under the port recreational facilities regulations.
The hon. Member for Canterbury asked about recreational craft. The EC directive refers to recreational craft authorised to carry no more than 12 passengers, with a view to distinguishing smaller recreational craft from larger recreational craft, which might reasonably be treated on the same basis as other ships. The UK does not have a regime for authorising private non-commercial recreational craft, so the directive has been modified accordingly. The EC deemed 12 passengers to be a reasonable cut-off for such ships, and it drew on existing Community law for inland vessels, which defines those carrying more than 12 passengers as passenger vessels.
The hon. Gentleman also asked why now. The regulations implemented the outstanding element of the 2000 directive, and the UK had no choice but to implement it. As I said in my opening remarks, we had our own arrangements in place, and the EU recognised that it had to implement similar arrangements. We sought clarification, which took some time, hence the delay between 2000, 2005, 2008 and the introduction of the regulations now. The aspect relating to sewage was suspended under the terms of the directive, so the UK did not have to implement it at the same time as the 2003 regulations.
Mr. Brazier: It is clear that there are perfectly reasonable answers to most of the questions that I have asked. However, will the Minister reassure the Committee that, for those ports that do not have anything in place yet, given the dire state of the industry, enforcement will be moderate and encouraging rather than punitive over the next year or two?
Jim Fitzpatrick: I hope to be able to provide my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton and the hon. Member for Canterbury with some reassurance on enforcement. All merchant shipping is covered one way or another. The “irrespective of use” fee covers most ships, but other charging arrangements apply to recreational craft and fishing vessels.
In response to the hon. Member for Canterbury, let me say that enforcement relating to sewage on yachts and other small craft will be along the same lines as enforcement for oils, waste and garbage under the existing regulations, so there is no change for smaller craft. For larger craft, there have been no prosecutions to date under the regulations. Ships violating the rules on disposal of garbage at sea are normally prosecuted under the Merchant Shipping (Prevention of Pollution by Garbage) Regulations 1998, which will shortly be replaced by the Merchant Shipping (Prevention of Pollution by Sewage and Garbage) Regulations 2008, which are due to come into force on 1 February 2009.
The small number of harbours and terminals that have been warned about non-compliance have, to date, complied before any prosecution has been required. The element of discretion asked for by the hon. Gentleman is therefore clearly within the bounds of the regulations and the procedures that have applied over recent years. Were there to be a prosecution, the maximum statutory fine on summary conviction would be £5,000, which is not inconsiderable.
As a final reassurance, let me say that we have held extensive consultations with the industry, as the hon. Gentleman said, to ensure that there will be no undue burdens. We do not regard the regulations as controversial, and I commend them to the Committee.
Question put and agreed to.
10.54 am
Committee rose.

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