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Pollution Prevention and Control Bill [H.L.]

6.8 p.m.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Pollution Prevention and Control Bill [H.L.], has consented to place her Prerogative and interest, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty): My Lords, I beg to move that the Commons amendments be now considered.

Moved, That the Commons amendments be now considered.--(Lord Whitty.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

[The page and line refer to Bill 107 as first printed for the Commons]


After Clause 2, insert the following new clause--

(" .--(1) The Secretary of State may, in relation to offshore installations, by regulations make provision which, subject to any modifications that he considers appropriate, corresponds or is similar to any provision made by, or capable of being made under, sections 137 to 140 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995 (powers to prevent and reduce pollution, and the risk of pollution, by oil or other substances following an accident) in relation to ships.
(2) In this section--
"offshore installation" means any structure or other thing (but not a ship) in or under--
(a) United Kingdom territorial waters, or
(b) any waters mentioned in section 5(9)(b) or (c),
which is used for the purposes of, or in connection with, the exploration, development or production of petroleum;
"petroleum" has the meaning given by section 1 of the Petroleum Act 1998;
"ship" has the same meaning as in the Merchant Shipping Act 1995.
(3) Regulations under this section may--
(a) contain such consequential, incidental, supplementary, transitional or saving provisions as the Secretary of State considers appropriate; and
(b) make different provision for different cases, including different provision in relation to different persons, circumstances, areas or localities.
(4) Before making any regulations under this section, the Secretary of State shall consult--

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(a) the Environment Agency, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and the Department of the Environment for Northern Ireland;
(b) such bodies or persons appearing to him to be representative of the interests of owners or operators of offshore installations as he may consider appropriate; and
(c) such other bodies or persons as he may consider appropriate.
(5) The power to make regulations under this section shall be exercised by statutory instrument.
(6) No regulations shall be made under this section (whether alone or with other regulations) unless a draft of the statutory instrument containing the regulations has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament.").

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 1. I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 4 and 5.

As I have mentioned during earlier debates on the Bill, the Government intend to use it to make improvements to the offshore environmental regime. That includes implementing one of the recommendations in the recent report of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson, which was published on 15th March this year, and was instigated following events surrounding the "Sea Empress" oil tanker incident in 1996. I have referred to the report at earlier stages of the Bill.

The work of the noble and learned Lord concerned the control and salvage of shipping and offshore installations in situations where there is a significant threat of pollution. He reached four basic conclusions.

The first was that incidents that threaten to cause or actually cause marine pollution are so many and varied that the involvement of Ministers in operational decisions is not a practicable option. Ministers are entitled to be kept informed and may subsequently be accountable to Parliament. However, while operations are in progress, Ministers must stand aside, and be seen to stand aside, leaving operational control in the hands of a Secretary of State's specially trained appointed representative (to be called, in the jargon, SOSREPs).

The second conclusion was that the "trigger" point at which the Government, in terms of their statutory powers and responsibilities, become entitled to give directions is where there is a threat of significant pollution to the UK's pollution control zone, territorial waters or coastline.

The third conclusion was that officers from the Maritime and Coastguard Agency as a whole should play a much larger part in operations in response to a significant threat of pollution than had been the case in the past.

The fourth conclusion was that the government response to the threat of significant pollution from or involving an offshore installation must be compatible with their response to such a threat from a shipping casualty. The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry should, therefore, be given powers and responsibilities in relation to offshore installations which are similar to those of the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions under the Merchant Shipping Act 1995.

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I have given the first three conclusions as background. However, it is only this fourth conclusion that these amendments are designed to implement. They are a lengthy set of amendments and it might be useful if I briefly run through them.

Subsection (1) of the new clause provides the Secretary of State with powers for offshore installations equivalent to those for ships contained in the Merchant Shipping Act 1995. Subsection (2) seeks to define an offshore installation both by type and geographic location. Subsection (3) seeks to ensure that any regulations made may be tailored to the particular circumstances and various types of offshore installations and that regulations sit well with existing provisions. Subsections (4), (5) and (6) would ensure that consultation takes place with statutory bodies, industry and others prior to the introduction of regulations and that these be made by affirmative resolution of both Houses.

Amendment No. 4, which is a relatively technical amendment, provides that the powers to make and enforce regulations extend to Northern Ireland. The other amendment in this group reflects the fact that the Petroleum Act 1998 consolidated a good deal of earlier oil and gas legislation, including the Oil and Gas Enterprise Act 1982. These are, therefore, tidying-up amendments.

Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 1.--(Lord Whitty.)



Line 34, after subsection (4) insert--

("(4A) The regulations made under this section and section 2 of this Act shall make provision for appeals to lie to a tribunal independent of the Secretary of State from decisions, authorisations, prohibitions, variations and enforcement actions of the Secretary of State or any agency acting on his behalf,").

6.15 p.m.

Lord Jenkin of Roding: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 1A as an amendment to Commons Amendment No. 1. I tabled this amendment because of an undertaking given by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, at Third Reading. I shall come to that in a moment. In discussing draft regulations with the generality of industry affected by the Bill, the DETR has seen fit to include in such regulations an effective appeals procedure. The DTI, which has been consulting with the offshore oil and gas industry on the different set of regulations which will implement the Bill so far as that industry is concerned, has so far shown no inclination to include an appeals procedure in its regulations.

Perhaps I may remind the House of the huge importance to this country of the oil and gas industry. I cannot do so with better words than those used by the Minister for Energy and Industry, Mr John Battle, when he addressed the All Party Group on Oil and Gas last month. He stated:

    "The exploitation of the UKCS"--

that is United Kingdom Continental Shelf--

    "is one of the great British commercial and technological success stories. In a hostile physical environment, UK technology and teamwork have created a highly-productive oil and gas province

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    which has kept the UK self-sufficient for some 20 years. It provides around 30,000 jobs offshore and many more onshore in support of these, not just in Scotland but in East Anglia, North East England",

and, the honourable Member added, in his own constituency.

    "Last year saw combined oil and gas production (132 million tonnes of oil and 95 billion cubic metres of gas) running to record levels. Over 200 offshore fields are currently in production".

By any standards, this is a hugely important industry.

My second point is that the industry has at no point quarrelled with the objective of the Bill--and, I would add, with the objective of the Commons amendments; that is the new clause which the Minister has just moved--as being appropriate to safeguard the environment. It has been perfectly prepared to accept the new regulations, many of which replace existing statutory provisions (I shall not rehearse old arguments) because it recognises that that is necessary both to ensure high standards of environmental protection and to comply with the European directive.

The industry is, therefore, nonplussed and somewhat disturbed to find that in the draft regulations upon which it has been consulted, so far there is no provision for an appeal against any ministerial determination, and so on, as I have set out in my amendment.

I find this all the more surprising because at Third Reading my noble friend Lord Renton moved an amendment in which he sought to write into the Bill the existing statutory provision contained in primary legislation which set out in some detail the appeals procedure. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, in reply stated:

    "Whatever we do, I can give a categoric assurance that operators will have rights of appeal under the system that we now propose or any future system were we minded to make any further alteration".--[Official Report, 20/5/99; col. 434.]

As regards the draft regulations with which his department is concerned, that is being fulfilled; but, where is the corresponding regulation from the DTI in relation to the offshore oil and gas industry? There must be some explanation. The industry has so far complained that in the regulation with which it is concerned there is no provision for appeal. I have to ask the Minister, why not? Is it intended that there should be a new draft or an addition to the existing draft to fulfil his own very clear and specific pledge given only last May?

I do not want to dwell on the fact unnecessarily, but from the industry's point of view I am sure that the entire House recognises how important it is for there to be a proper appeals mechanism against the regulation. I refer to both this new clause and, as my amendment states, Clause 2 of the Bill--the general operating provisions. We have established that they apply to the offshore oil and gas industry, as they apply to the rest of industry. That was made clear by the Government at the earlier stages of the Bill. That is the reason why I have included Clause 2 in my amendment to this Commons amendment.

I hope that this time I shall be vouchsafed a proper explanation of what is going on and told when we can expect the offshore oil and gas industry to be accorded the same rights of appeal as the Minister's own department is now prepared to give to anybody else.

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Moved, That Amendment No. 1A, as an amendment to Commons Amendment No. 1, be agreed to.--(Lord Jenkin of Roding.)

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