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Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, I thank the Minister for speaking on these three draft instruments in the way that he has, particularly as the one which falls within his own remit was hardly dealt with by the Foreign Office Minister in another place. That is regrettable and there are therefore a number of questions I wish to put to the Minister in that regard. I gave him notice of the questions. This is not a controversial party political matter; it is a matter in which a number of bodies outside the House are interested.

I wish to say at the outset that the Opposition support all three statutory instruments. We believe that they are important and I welcome many of the measures that the Minister announced yesterday. I have not had time to digest them all but they represent an important contribution to the defence of the maritime environment. Again, I want to put a number of questions to the Minister in that regard, of which I have not given him notice because it is only within the past one-and-a-half hours that I have managed to obtain copies of the documents concerned.

In addressing the first two statutory instruments, which are within the remit of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, we particularly welcome what has happened. I should perhaps declare an interest at this stage in covering all three matters, in that I am chairman of the Advisory Committee on the Protection of the Sea.

Viscount Goschen: Hear, hear!

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, at last I have done something which meets with the approbation of the Minister. I am glad about that.

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That body, in 1952 when few people were even talking about the "environment", was established by my noble friend Lord Callaghan, who showed a substantial measure of prescience in so doing. Since then it has taken a keen interest in these policies. It is over 13 years since the final text of the Law of the Sea Convention was accepted at the Plenipotentiary Conference in Jamaica in 1982. The United Kingdom then joined the United States and other G7 states in not signing because of problems it thought it had with Part XI in relation to deep seabed mining. But 155 states signed within the first year and further negotiations ensued over a long period of time. It was not until 1994 that the G7 countries felt that their objections to Part XI had been satisfactorily resolved.

The statutory instruments are designed to ensure that the United Kingdom can meet the obligations of the convention and to take advantage also of its opportunities. However, will the Minister confirm that many of its provisions are part of customary international law and are therefore already binding on the United Kingdom and other states--for example, rights in territorial waters; the 200-mile fishery zones; the rights of transit passage through straits such as the Dover Strait and rights over the Continental Shelf?

Ratification of the convention by the United Kingdom remains important because it allows this country to participate in the new institutions, as the Minister outlined, established by the treaty and to take advantage of the new rights; for example, to control pollution in the 200-mile exclusive economic zone.

In our view the instruments cover key issues, including inter alia privileges and immunities to institutions established by the convention. The Minister dealt with the International Sea-Bed Authority and the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea. I sincerely hope and believe that the new authority will not be another high-spending international institution, and that the voting system has been adjusted to ensure that the interests of developed states are well represented in the decision-making process.

I believe the tribunal is to be based in Hamburg and will represent the flagship of the new significant dispute settlement procedures based on the convention. Perhaps I can say in parenthesis that I wish Mr. David Anderson, of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, who is to be the United Kingdom nominee for the tribunal, every success in the challenging role that he will face.

I turn from that to the third statutory instrument, which again we welcome. It will enable the United Kingdom to take advantage of Part XII of the convention, which grants more extensive powers to coastal states to exercise control over pollution from ships within the 200-mile zone. Is it right that the United Kingdom does not propose to claim formally a 200-mile exclusive economic zone but will be designating an area of the sea above its Continental Shelf as an area in which pollution control powers may be exercised? If that is right, would the Minister be kind enough to explain the reasons for taking that course?

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Having said that, it may be a little academic because I recognise that the really important issue is that the United Kingdom will now claim the powers to regulate vessel-source pollution in waters to be designated but which presumably will be up to 200 miles from the coast or the agreed boundaries with our neighbours, since the Secretary of State will be designating the geographical area within which the United Kingdom will exercise these powers and by which it will be able to apprehend, inspect and punish violations of the convention in those areas. Can the Minister inform the House when the United Kingdom proposes to ratify the convention, which is justifiably called (because of its general application and its fundamental impact on all matters concerning the oceans), a Constitution for the Oceans? It would be helpful if the Minister could throw some light on that because it is important.

I turn now to a number of issues germane to maritime pollution. Will the Minister confirm that, although vessel-based marine pollution remains a significant threat and the Government are determined to do a great deal about it, a far larger threat to the marine environment is represented by land-based sources of marine pollution, accounting for something like 85 to 90 per cent. of all marine pollution? That is not generally recognised by the man or woman in the street who thinks that such pollution comes entirely from ships at sea, but that is a wrong perception.

Does the Minister agree that an obligation arises from Agenda 21 of Chapter 17 of the Rio Agreement, as well as from Chapter 28 which deals with the role of local authorities and which is known as "Local Agenda 21", for signatories to take effective steps to deal with those issues? Is the Minister aware that the Advisory Committee on the Protection of the Sea has played a significant part in seeking to marshal a coherent contribution from local authorities internationally in that regard? What are the Government doing in positive terms to make a meaningful contribution to reinforce those efforts from an NGO to which many local authorities have responded well?

Does the Minister agree that the real importance of this draft statutory instrument is that it must be effectively enforced as well as implemented? MARPOL 1973 was designed--and its objective remains--to achieve:

    "the complete elimination of international pollution of the marine environment by oil and other harmful substances"?

The United Kingdom has implemented the MARPOL obligations by the Merchant Shipping (Operations Book) Regulations 1988, but how well is that being enforced? Are threats posed to its proper enforcement as a result of cuts in the Coastguard Agency and in the Marine Safety Agency? Can the Minister safely assert tonight that there will be no compromise with safety as a result of those cuts? I am sure that he will aver that that is the case, but a mere assertion is not necessarily the whole story.

The Minister must justify the position that the Government are taking because, on the face of it, a serious review of the coastguard service could result, as I understand it, in a loss of something like 10 to 15 station officers around the United Kingdom, with

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380 auxiliary coastguards being replaced by people known as "watch assistants". What will be the difference in the effectiveness of the roles to be performed by the watch assistants as against the auxiliary coastguards? How well trained and skilled will they be? Would it not be much more desirable, especially from the point of view of those who are seeking to deal with a polluting ship or seeking to help somebody in difficulty, to have a more highly skilled and trained force available? What impact will there be on safety? I have to ask the Minister whether it is not really all about saving money so that the Department of Transport can makes its contribution to tax cuts before the next election. In that context, my last question is: can the Minister say something about the areas most likely to be affected by the changes?

I should like to say a word or two about the Marine Safety Agency. Further pressure will be imposed on the MSA to reduce its staff at a time when it will be taking on new responsibilities. They are set out in some of the 18 new measures to combat marine pollution from ships which the Minister announced yesterday. The MSA is already under pressure and is delegating more than ever to classification societies. There is a debilitation of its surveying staff and I believe that, as a result, there has been a reduction in this country's influence not merely at present, but more importantly for the future, with regard to important maritime councils. That will be the inevitable effect of a lack of surveyors.

Can the Minister say something about aerial surveillance? There is reason to suppose that that is not being enforced as effectively as one would wish even within the 12-mile limit, so how is it likely to be effective within the new 200-mile limit?

I turn now to fines. I welcome very much what the Minister said. Indeed, I began to prepare my notes before seeing what the Minister was going to say, which is pertinent to my own thinking. The fines that applied previously were hopelessly inadequate. Therefore, the suggestion that is now emerging from the Department of Transport is very much to be welcomed and I congratulate the Minister on it. Like his officials, he has realised that much more draconian penalties are required if there is to be a suitable deterrent.

I also very much welcome what the Minister said about waste reception facilities. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds was particularly concerned about that and drew my attention to the serious pollution which occurred last September off Flamborough Head and to another incident on 27th December when a very large number of oiled birds were found. The RSPB may well have drawn the attention of the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, to that also. The RSPB has asked that regional waste auditing systems should be put in place to supplement aerial surveillance. That system already operates in the Netherlands. I may be wrong but I have not yet seen any reference to that, so the Minister may want to say something about it. I must ask: if it is working well there, why not apply the same system here?

I turn now to some of the other points raised in the Minister's press release and in the document that was published yesterday. The Minister referred to the waste

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management plans which are designed to improve port waste reception facilities and to encourage shipowners to use them instead of dumping their waste at sea. That is a commendable suggestion. However, following consultation, the Minister is proposing to introduce that on a voluntary basis, reserving the right to introduce a mandatory requirement if that breaks down. Given that we are not talking simply about British flagged ships, but about flags of convenience which show little regard for voluntary systems, why should the Minister believe that a voluntary system is likely to have any real effect? I repeat that it is not only British ships which use British ports, but those of many other nations.

The Minister said in the statement that parliamentary approval for the plan would be sought at the earliest opportunity if it was necessary to make it a mandatory requirement. I believe that it is necessary to introduce a mandatory requirement in any case, but can the Minister say anything about the bid that he will make in the next Session of Parliament--if we have one, which is a moot point? We would wish to pursue that proposal when we take office after the next election.

The Minister spoke about the scale of charges. It is a difficult question, as I recognise. Can he say what scale of charges he has in mind? Will the ports be able to discharge those expenses? What consultation is going on within the EU? I doubt very much whether we can expect to make rapid progress within the IMO, but perhaps we can hope for some more purposive efforts to be made within the EU.

Is there any reason to suppose that mandatory requirements in relation to the regime for waste disposal and the enforcement of marine pollution regulations that the Minister has in mind are being applied elsewhere in the EU at present? Having asked those questions and been a little critical--not very much--I hope that the Minister recognises that we shall use our best endeavours to ensure that the proposals he is putting forward, for which I once again thank him, and which are essentially constructive and helpful, will be a positive support for cleaner seas round the coasts of the UK. I thank the Minister for the way in which he has dealt with the matter.

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