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Merchant Shipping (Control of Pollution) (SOLAS) Order 1998

8.15 p.m.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 21st April be approved [32nd Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. I am pleased to seek the approval of the House for the Merchant Shipping (Control of Pollution) (SOLAS) Order. The order is purely a legal technicality to enable the making of regulations in a situation where the Safety of Life at Sea Convention 1974--commonly known as SOLAS--contains provisions relating also to the control of pollution.

We implement SOLAS, which, as its name indicates, relates to safety at sea, by means of regulations made under Section 85 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995. The powers in that section, although very wide, only

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enable regulations to be made which deal with the safety of ships and the safety and health of persons on them. They do not enable regulations with the purpose of controlling pollution. This order will provide that facility.

The need for the order has come about because recently SOLAS was amended to require ship operators to comply with the International Management Code for the Safe Operation of Ships and for Pollution Prevention, commonly known as the International Safety Management, or ISM, code. That code requires operators to have in place a "safety management system", defined as a structured and documented system enabling company personnel to effectively implement the safety and environmental protection policy of the company.

The ISM code has been developed over a number of years at the International Maritime Organisation and was adopted at the 18th session of the IMO Assembly in November 1993. The objectives of the internationally agreed mandatory application of the code are to ensure, first, compliance with existing rules and regulations--the code introduces no new technical regulations--and secondly, effective implementation and enforcement thereof by flag administrations.

The adoption of a new chapter to the SOLAS convention, Chapter IX, makes the ISM code mandatory in two phases, depending on ship type, on 1st July 1998 and 1st July 2002. The UK was instrumental in the development of the code and fully supports its implementation.

It has long been acknowledged, from the examination of maritime accidents, that the human element is a causal factor and the intention of the ISM code is to address this aspect. Previously a vessel's safety and pollution prevention capabilities were judged primarily on the condition of the ship, provision of equipment, and certification of key personnel. The ISM code requires that the operational and managerial expertise, both on shore and at sea, are adequate to operate vessels safely to internationally agreed standards. It also places a responsibility on flag administrations to undertake checks, that is audits, to ensure that ships flying their flag, and furthermore the companies which operate them, comply with the code.

Following the tragic loss of the "Estonia" our partners in the European Union recognised the significance of the code in relation to ship safety by bringing forward the date for compliance with the code by two years to 1st July 1996 for sea-going roll-on, roll-off passenger ferries. This was done by Council regulation EC No. 3051/95. As a point of interest, I am pleased to report that all UK registered ships in that category complied by July 1996.

As with many international agreements domestic legislation has to be put in place to implement those agreements. It is intended, therefore, that a statutory instrument, the Merchant Shipping (International Safety Management (ISM) Code) Regulations, should be brought into force on 1st July 1998 under the negative procedure. Those regulations will make it mandatory for companies and ships to comply with the ISM code. They

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set out requirements for companies and ships to be in possession of the appropriate certificates. They provide a power to suspend services and for penalties where offences are committed in contravention of the regulations.

It will be appreciated that it is essential that the ISM code regulations be enacted for a number of reasons. For example, the benefits of the code will be to minimise the scope for poor human decisions which contribute directly or indirectly to a casualty or pollution incident, with consequent significant improvements in safety and pollution prevention. The code will lead to enhanced safety standards and will help to eliminate sub-standard shipping. It is welcomed by responsible operators who can see the benefit to the maritime industry. Also, as a signatory to the SOLAS convention, the UK is committed to implementation of the new chapter. Failure to do so would mean that UK companies and ships could not be certificated, with the consequential disadvantages of being unable to trade internationally, and foreign ships entering UK ports would be free from such commitment.

However, as indicated previously, in view of the fact that the code also deals with the control of pollution, Section 85 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995 is not on its own wide enough to allow us to make the ISM code mandatory. So this order is being made under Section 128 of that Act. The section allows orders to be made--which in turn can allow regulations to be made--to give effect to any international agreement,

    "which relates to the prevention, reduction or control of pollution of the sea or other waters by matter from ships".

This order names SOLAS as such an agreement so far as it relates to control of pollution. The regulation making the ISM code will thus be made under the two enabling powers--the Merchant Shipping Act 1995 and this Merchant Shipping (Control of Pollution)(SOLAS) Order. However, I should emphasise that this order is not just for the purpose of implementing the ISM code. If at any time in the future SOLAS is amended in any way which covers pollution also, then this order will enable regulations to be made to allow such an amendment.

The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, was sufficiently considerate to raise one particular question with me and for the convenience of the House, I shall answer it now. This order will enable us to implement international obligations and is not the result of a direct recommendation of the inquiry of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson, in his report Safer Ships, Cleaner Seas. As the House may remember, effect was given to some of those recommendations in the Merchant Shipping and Maritime Security Act 1997 which amended the Merchant Shipping Act 1995.

However, I should say also that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson, in his report, was entirely supportive of the ISM code and agreed with the recommendation of the Chief Inspector of Marine Accidents following his investigation of the "Braer" casualty that the ISM code should be implemented by the shore management of shipping companies as a matter of urgency, even before it became mandatory. I commend the order to the House.

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Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 21st April be approved [32nd Report from the Joint Committee].--(Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton.)

Earl Attlee: My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the Minister for explaining the purpose and the need for the order. On these Benches, we are entirely content with it.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, I too should like to thank the Minister for her detailed explanation and also for her courtesy in responding to my query at very short notice. We certainly support the order.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Fire Services (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) Order 1998

8.24 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office (Lord Dubs) rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 12th May be approved.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, before proceeding to the detail of the order, I would like to pay tribute to the Northern Ireland Fire Brigade. For many years the brigade has played a vitally important role in the life of Northern Ireland. Firefighters have responded, under particularly difficult circumstances, to all types of emergencies with impartiality and dedication second to none.

This order would amend the Fire Services (Northern Ireland) Order 1984 to bring Northern Ireland into line with Great Britain with respect to legislation dealing with the fighting of fires at sea and, in relation to firefighters' pensions, will provide a specific power for determining appeals. It would also enable a change to be made to the means by which certain nominations are made for membership of the Fire Authority for Northern Ireland.

Article 3 would make it possible for the Northern Ireland Fire Brigade, any fire engine, appliance or equipment to be used outside Northern Ireland at sea. That is designed to bring Northern Ireland into line with the comparable law in Great Britain.

Article 4 is necessary to clarify the basis upon which the department can consolidate the existing firemen's pensions scheme in Northern Ireland and introduce a new scheme should that be appropriate. The amendment would provide for the determination of questions arising under the pension scheme and for the means to appeal against decisions relating to such determinations.

Article 5 concerns the membership of the Fire Authority for Northern Ireland. The authority currently consists of 17 members appointed for four-year terms. At present Belfast City Council and the Association of Local Authorities of Northern Ireland are the only bodies with nomination rights: each has the right to nominate four members.

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However, a review of the constitution of the authority recommended a change to the method of nomination. Accordingly, this amendment would extend nomination rights by introducing a procedure whereby appointments would be made following consultation with all district councils and associations representative of councils. The new procedure would first be effective for appointments to the authority in 2001. I commend the order to the House.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 12th May be approved.--(Lord Dubs.)

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