Shipping Safety (Donaldson Report)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 11:19 am on 28th June 1995.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Steven Norris Mr Steven Norris , Epping Forest 11:19 am, 28th June 1995

I agree with the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms Walley) that we do not have enough time for this debate. There is certainly not enough time for me to follow her down the magical paths that she traces. In my experience, she has a wonderful, almost magical, ability to witter on and manage completely to miss the point, unlike the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) who is consistently assiduous on behalf of his constituents, and considerate, concerned and fair in the way in which he approaches these issues. He showed those qualities again today.

I am grateful to my hon. Friends the Members for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) and for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Robinson), and to the hon. Members for Knowsley, South (Mr. O'Hara) and for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald) for their contributions. I hope that all hon. Members will forgive me if I am not able to respond to all the points that have been made. I shall endeavour to write to hon. Members about any points that I do not cover.

I turn first to the most important assertion made by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland—his concern about the lack of a timetable for the implementation of Lord Donaldson's recommendations in his excellent report. I make clear our commitment to the whole process. Putting to one side the many initiatives that we have already undertaken—they are laid out for all to see in our response—we have undertaken to consult on a number of key issues.

I think that the hon. Gentleman understands that the complexities of these matters and the recognition by Lord Donaldson of the need to develop some of his recommendations mean that we are obliged to consult widely. It is clear that we have to cover the full range of interests concerned and that, as the hon. Gentleman knows, we have to proceed, generally speaking, via the International Maritime Organisation or through other international organisations.

Almost all our initiatives will have been started by the end of this year; most have already begun. I say to the hon. Gentleman, who is experienced in these matters, that, although we have control over when we submit proposals to organisations such as the IMO, we do not have control over the time they take to deliberate and then to reach a decision.

It is a mark of the quality of Lord Donaldson's recommendations that we have invariably secured the support of other states when we have suggested international action. However, his recommendations cover a wide area, and we have had to establish priorities in taking initiatives forward.

Hon. Members have referred to the role of the Marine Safety Agency and the coastguard in taking forward the Donaldson recommendations. As my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome noted, targets have been set for both agencies. In both their business plans for this year, there are references to the Donaldson recommendations that are of direct interest to each agency.

Time does not allow me to narrate them. Suffice it to say that copies of the business plans for both agencies are in the Library of the House. Sixteen of the key tasks against which the MSA's performance will be measured relate to taking forward Donaldson's initiatives, and they are spelled out in the business plan.

We have set firm time scales for the actions that are within our control. This month marks the first anniversary of the publication of the detained ships list. My noble friend the Minister for Aviation and Shipping will comment shortly on our first year's experience. There is a consensus that other states have followed our example because they can see that there is real merit in publishing port state detention lists to deter substandard operating.

Our central strategy lies in the four consultation exercises that we promised when the response was published. The consultation exercises cover four areas: the provision of waste reception facilities in UK ports, tackling the problem of substandard and uninsured vessels, the response to pollution incidents, and the funding of port state control and emergency response capabilities.

The first consultation paper, on waste reception facilities, has already been issued. We shall do all that we can to ensure that port waste facilities are adequate and easy to use, and that they are used. We have consulted widely on a number of specific proposals designed to improve the facilities and to encourage their use. We entirely agree that more needs to be done.

There has been a good response to our specific proposals, and a number of positive suggestions have been made which we need to consider carefully during the summer. We expect to reach conclusions on the way forward with waste reception facilities over the next few months, and we shall announce the measures we propose to take as soon as possible.

I say, in parenthesis, that I understand the gentle sense of frustration felt by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland about the absence of regular progress reporting on the almost impenetrable international negotiation over such a wide arena. I shall carefully consider that point and discuss it with my noble Friend, because I think that there is merit in the hon. Gentleman's suggestion of a regular six-month round-up and report to the House on where we are. That is in everyone's interests, and I understand how important it will be to the hon. Gentleman and to the House generally.

On substandard and uninsured ships, Lord Donaldson's proposals on port state control are, as he said, the cornerstone of his report. These ideas will be most effective if they are agreed at regional level. The United Kingdom presented proposals on this matter to the Paris MOU on port state control, and the proposals were referred to the working group on harmonisation where they were recently examined in detail.

There was general agreement in principle to many of the proposals, and they are now being developed. We suggested significant improvements to the European Union directive on port state control, which was adopted by the Transport Council last week, so that it could easily be amended to take account of future Donaldson-inspired proposals. Lord Donaldson himself was concerned that the directive might fossilise current Paris MOU practices; we believe that our efforts have avoided this.

The problem of the klondykers and other substandard and uninsured fish factory ships operating in our waters has been a great concern to the House generally, and especially to the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland. We have addressed the problem in a number of ways. Since last July, the MSA has been carrying out a programme of inspections on klondykers. Those found to be substandard are detained if they are in port or instructed to remedy deficiencies if they are inspected at anchor outside port. That inspection programme will continue.

The Scottish Office is now implementing a new fisheries management regime. The number of fish transshipment licences issued will be limited henceforth, and an advance notice period for applying for them is now required. We hope that that will go some way to limiting the number of substandard klondykers operating in our waters this year, but we know that we also need to deal with the standard of ships that do come. In addition to continuing our inspection programme, we are at the final stage of drafting the consultation paper on ways in which to overcome the problems that klondykers and similar ships pose.

It has been suggested that we are dilatory in seeking action on compulsory insurance, but I do not think that that charge holds water. We were in the lead in establishing the principle of compulsory insurance for oil spills. The diplomatic conference next year should establish compulsory insurance for damage caused by ships carrying hazardous and noxious substances.

We have also pressed the IMO for international action on compulsory insurance for other types of damage, and our proposal has been put on the legal committee's work programme. We are now formulating proposals to require compulsory third-party insurance for ships using our ports or operating within our waters. If we proceed with these proposals, following the consultation exercise, we shall need to press for early international action on compulsory insurance, because a number of vessels pass through our waters on innocent or transit passage, and we must ensure that they are adequately insured. We can achieve that only by international agreement.

I now turn to radar, and to marine environmental high-risk areas. Lord Donaldson saw a limited role for radar monitoring. Although the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland may not agree, that is what Lord Donaldson concluded.

We have, however, undertaken two radar monitoring exercises at the Fair isle strait, using a mobile radar located at Fitful head, and we have also conducted similar monitoring in the Scilly isles and in the Smalls off the Pembroke coast. All these exercises showed a high level of compliance with established routing restrictions. We shall read the results in conjunction with Lord Donaldson's recommendations on the establishment of marine environmental high-risk areas, and we shall undertake further mobile radar monitoring in the Minches.

Lord Donaldson also recommended the use of salvage tugs to offer assistance to vessels around the United Kingdom coast. As an interim measure, we funded an emergency towing trial involving two tugs covering the Dover strait and the Minch. That trial, as the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland said, has now finished. It has given us some valuable practical experience of tug operation. The results will be included in the report of the study team which is is to be submitted to Ministers this month. I hope that that is helpful to the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland.

On transponders, it is right that we do not want ships to be able to continue to operate anonymously off our coast. We have therefore pursued vigorously an agreement on mandatory transponders, and we will maintain our pressure on the IMO. Pending agreement on transponders, we have acted on Lord Donaldson's recommendation that ships should have clearly visible recognition marks, and we presented proposals on that to last month's meeing of the IMO maritime safety committee. Those proposals are new being considered by the appropriate subcommittee.

I want to get across the point that the Government participate fully in international agreements to secure effective compensation. Through the the United Kingdom's membership of the international oil pollution compensation fund, over £41 million has been paid to inhabitants of the Shetland Islands for damage caused by the Braer. My noble Friend—