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Lord Warner: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for enabling me to answer one of the questions of the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant. I refer him to the Defra website. The noble Baroness asked about district nurses and PCT services. She is aware that we do not micromanage the NHS from Richmond House. It is down to PCTs to make appropriate arrangements for meeting the health needs of their populations. I do not believe everything that I read in the press or the professional journals about what PCTs are or are not doing in individual cases. I am sure that they will be operating in accordance with our emergency plans in relation to a pandemic.
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Merchant Shipping (Pollution) Bill [HL]

4.20 pm

Report received.

Lord Hanningfield moved Amendment No. 1:

The United Kingdom shall unilaterally, and in partnership with organisations including the International Maritime Organisation and others as it sees fit, take all reasonable steps to promote the merits of the Supplementary Fund Protocol and to encourage other states to ratify the Protocol as soon as practical."

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving this amendment I hope to create an opportunity to raise a number of points regarding the Bill which Members on these Benches wish to see clarified. I should explain that, having taken advice from the Government Whips and the Public Bill Office, I have been informed that without laying an amendment I would be unable to raise any substantive issue about the actual content of the Bill. I have therefore utilised the prerogative of the Opposition because it is our duty to ensure that any legislation put before us is scrutinised to its fullest extent. On that last point I make no apology. I say that because in Committee I was criticised by the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, for seeking clarification on a series of points at that stage. I hope that he will not criticise me today. Like the noble Lord, Members on these Benches fully support the objectives of this short but highly important Bill. But I believe that the opportunity to probe a little further cannot simply be forfeited.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, for her exemplary conduct and the approach she has adopted towards this Bill, and for the kind assistance she has extended to me and to other Members of the Committee. It is to the letter written by the noble Baroness to Members of the Committee on 5 August last that I wish to address my remarks today. Again, I thank her very much indeed for the informative content of that letter. It went a long way towards addressing many of our original questions. However, I would be grateful for a little further comment on a number of related points

First, the noble Baroness has explained in commendable detail the terms of the review of the existing international regime and of the conventions which pose a threat to the effectiveness of the current operating structures. That is a practical and sensible move, and one that we all support. Can the Minister give us an update of where we are with the suggested reforms as detailed in her excellent letter and whether there was any movement over the summer in finalising those arrangements? Are we any closer to clarifying with our international partners the definition of a "ship", or to what would constitute a viable quorum? In particular, it would be helpful to learn more about the time-frame within which we may expect these reforms to be signed off and put into practice.
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Secondly, concerns persist as to how other countries will be encouraged to sign up to the fund, the point addressed in the amendment. I understand that some states may choose not to join, but it is important that we make every effort to promote the benefits of membership. Indeed, the Minister mentioned that we will continue to promote the supplementary fund. My question about this is simple: how?

We have heard that, as a signatory, the UK will send a strong message to others. However, in essence I am looking for something slightly more substantive, although of course not for a moment do I doubt the Government's intentions on this matter. I hope that real thought can be given to this point in the department and that perhaps an action plan outlining the ways in which the UK will actually seek to encourage other states to sign up could be produced. Simply to say that the UK will be adequately covered and protected because our near neighbours are parties to the regime is slightly to shirk from our international obligation to ensure that all nations, wherever they are, are adequately protected. So if the noble Baroness can provide an assurance that serious thought will be given to our role in encouraging other states to sign up, I think that we would be happy to let the matter rest.

I will not detain the House any longer lest I incur the wrath of the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, except to say that as I have mentioned before, we are happy to support the legislation. I hope that the noble Baroness will be able to provide us with the assurances we seek today. I beg to move.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, I am very sorry that I purported to incur the wrath of the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield. I had no intention whatever of upsetting him. If I have done, I apologise profusely.

The noble Lord explained that it was imperative that he should put an amendment down—however irrelevant—if he had the opportunity, to explain his disappointment in certain respects. Frankly, I do not think that he should have apologised at all. He could, of course, have referred to the situation at Third Reading. It was unnecessary to table an amendment. However, he has done so. I believe that the amendment is otiose, because the situation described in the amendment is already happening. I am sure that the Government recognise that the position will change in the future as we benefit from experiences that will occur that cannot be envisaged at the moment.

In other words, the Bill introduced by the Government should not represent the last word. We should be prepared—as I am sure they are—to learn from situations that emerge in the future. As I said before, in no way do I want to upset the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield. I am sure that the whole House will endorse the view that the Government are showing the way. The international order can be properly represented on the world stage as far as this aspect of policy is concerned. I am sure that that is the view of the noble Lord and of the Government.

Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, I have a very brief question for the Minister to include in her answer.
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How will the adherence to this protocol be policed? How do we know that the ships that visit our harbours are covered by the insurance provisions of MARPOL? Otherwise, I am perfectly happy to allow the Bill to progress.

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, I thank the noble Lords for their contributions this afternoon. Before I begin the substantive part of my remarks, I should like to make a small tribute to Lord Donaldson of Lymington who passed away during the recess. He was a familiar figure in the shipping world and in this House. As a wise and often trenchant adviser to governments and to their officials, he was closely engaged with the proposals before us today—proposals likely to make the seas cleaner. Indeed, much of our current law in this field is based on his important work. As my honourable friend the Minister of State for Transport wrote to Lord Donaldson's family:

I am sure that the House would concur with that.

Noble Lords: Hear, hear!

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, Lord Donaldson was a personal friend of mine. I endorse fully what my noble friend said and I am sure that that is the view throughout the whole House. In his absence, we mourn a man who contributed greatly to the safety of shipping and those who sail in the ships that they serve.

Lord Hanningfield: My Lords, the opposition echoes those comments and I add my condolences to those that the Minister and the noble Lord have expressed.

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, I thank noble Lords for those comments.

The points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, in his amendment are most timely. This week the state parties to the International Oil Pollution Compensation (IOPC) Fund are meeting to discuss the review of the regime. The current review of the international oil pollution compensation regime began in 2001. The supplementary fund protocol, referred to in the Bill, was born out of the early stages of that review. A number of other issues are still under consideration. We expect a decision by the assembly of the IOPC Fund later this week with regard to whether or not the underlying treaties are to be revised. If there is agreement to revise the regime, the purposes would include addressing the balance of financial responsibility between the shipowner and the oil receiver and amending a number of technical issues in the interpretation of the fund that have arisen over the years.

It is expected that there would then be a series of meetings to consider the detail of the reforms, including the definition of "ship" and what constitutes a viable quorum, as rightly noted by the noble Lord. It would also be necessary to agree a draft text of the treaty. Agreement of a revised international treaty can
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be a long process and even in this case, with a limited number of issues for revision, can be expected to take at least a couple of years. Any draft instrument would then need to be adopted by the diplomatic conference of the International Maritime Organisation. If there is agreement this week to revise the regime, an optimistic estimate would be three to four years to agree new instruments.

This is not the first review of the international oil compensation regime and I do not expect it to be the last. As noble Lords will know, the regime has been around for more than 25 years and we hope that it will continue for many more. In order to continue with full vigour, the regime needs to evolve. From time to time amendments will inevitably be required in the light of experience. Therefore, Clause 1(2)(b) of the Bill makes provision for the UK to ratify future instruments governing liability and compensation for oil pollution, if they are adopted following a review of the regime. Of course, such further changes would be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure, as we have provided for in Clause 1(6)(a). I hope that that information assists the noble Lord and the House.

I now turn to address the second point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield. The Government agree that the UK should use its best endeavours to encourage other states to join the supplementary fund protocol. I am happy to repeat today that the Government's intention is to ratify the supplementary fund protocol as soon as possible after the Bill receives Royal Assent, if that is the will of Parliament. Once the UK has ratified the supplementary fund protocol, we will be in a better position to encourage other states to join, and that is our intention. Until we have ratified and brought the protocol into force, it is difficult to bring pressure to bear on other states to do the same. Should the House agree, and should the other place go through its procedure, ratification could take place by the end of February and the bringing into force of the protocol by May of next year, at which point we could look other states in the eye and ask them what point they have reached as regards ratification.

The Government are a strong supporter of the international oil pollution compensation regime and believe that wide participation in the Supplementary Fund Protocol will both strengthen the regime and ensure its continued international status. Broad international membership of the supplementary fund will also benefit our oil industry as contributions for compensation in the event of a major oil spill will be spread across a greater number of oil receivers.

I assure noble Lords that the Government fully intend to take opportunities, on the back of UK ratification, to encourage other states to join the Supplementary Fund Protocol, as the noble Lord encourages us to do. However, the Government believe that it would be more appropriate to do so through bilateral meetings and discussion at the International Maritime Organisation rather than by pre-published action plans.
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We intend to remind our European colleagues that we are all required by a European Council decision of March 2004 to ratify the Supplementary Fund Protocol as soon as possible. We will urge member states to fulfil their obligations under that decision.

We will also work very closely with our Austrian colleagues, who will take the chair of the European Union in January. We will work with them particularly closely on maritime issues. We will use that close working relationship to remind our European Union colleagues of the obligations that they are under. We will be able to check also on the progress of our international colleagues beyond the European Union family with other IOPC states at the meeting that they will hold next spring, on the assumption, of course, that we ourselves have ratified at that stage.

I hope that the action we are taking is enough to reassure the noble Lord and that he will agree that it is not necessary to include his amendment in primary legislation.

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