Waste Reception Facilities at Harbours

Merchant Shipping and Maritime Security Bill [Lords] – in the House of Commons at 6:45 pm on 17th March 1997.

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Photo of Glenda Jackson Glenda Jackson Shadow Spokesperson (Transport) 6:45 pm, 17th March 1997

I beg to move amendment No. 4, in page 6, line 24, after 'recovered', insert 'without creating a disincentive to those who are expected to use them'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker:

With this, it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 5, in page 6, line 24, at end insert '; and

  • '(d) measures to ensure the ease of use of waste reception facilities.'.

Photo of Glenda Jackson Glenda Jackson Shadow Spokesperson (Transport) 8:15 pm, 17th March 1997

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. These amendments would make a valuable addition to an immensely important section of the Bill. As all members of the Committee have acknowledged, the Bill is extremely important, and many of the recommendations of Lord Donaldson's report, "Safer Ships and Cleaner Seas", have been endorsed. We believe, however, that there are still areas within the Bill where improvements can be made. That is why we have tabled the amendments.

We are concerned that the ease of providing waste facilities at our ports is not such as to encourage ship owners to instruct their masters and crews to use such facilities when they are in place. The possible costs of such waste facilities would be a disincentive.

I should highlight that competition throughout the whole of the international maritime industry is fierce, and competition is no less fierce in our ports. Not only are British ports in direct competition with other ports within the European Union but there is competition within the ports themselves. It is not our intention—nor, I imagine, is it the intention of any hon. Member—that waste reception facilities should add yet another competitive burden on our ports, but we have to take the necessary steps to ensure that ships do not take the easy option, which has undoubtedly been the case in the past, of dumping unwanted waste at sea.

There are, of course, well-recorded incidents of waste being dumped more by accident than design, but, as I said in Committee, I well remember that, more than 25 years ago, when I was sailing across the Atlantic and our vessel approached the Sargasso sea—with my limited hydrographic knowledge, I presume that it is about the middle of the Atlantic ocean, where one would expect to see little or no waste—I saw that the weed within the wide Sargasso sea was thick with detritus that, clearly, had been thrown over the side of vessels.

I regret that I did not have the opportunity to inform my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) that I intended to refer to one of his speeches, but in the second sitting of our Committee he had occasion to refer to "Beachwatch 1996", in which he and his wife had taken part. The amount of debris that was collected from British beaches during that exercise makes astounding reading. My hon. Friend said: Debris was collected from 237 beaches in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland … A total of 291,228 items were surveyed, weighing an estimated 17,518 kg … and filling 2,438 bags."—[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 27 February 1997; c. 34.] My hon. Friend went on to detail some of the items that had been lifted from our beaches. They were plastic, glass, metal, polystyrene, rubber, cloth and pottery or ceramic items. He spared the Committee's feelings and did not describe in detail items that could be regarded as having landed on our beaches because of sewage.

The evidence that my hon. Friend presented to the Committee, and the evidence that I saw with my own eyes, admittedly many years ago, underlines the seriousness of the problem. Unless the facilities provided at our ports are easy to use and do not create a disincentive, the problem could grow worse in the future. As was said this evening and in our earlier deliberations, good shipowners and good masters will welcome such facilities and use them. We are concerned about ships whose owners and masters are less scrupulous, and where the pressures imposed by an owner on a master to make a fast turnround at the port of call could impact on the use of such facilities.

We have more than 350 ports in these islands, which provide a wide variety of facilities, whether commercial or recreational. No one presupposes that one kind of plan will meet the requirements in every port in these islands, but there must be a requirement on all ports that such facilities as they eventually devise and put in place must not act as a disincentive to vessels that use them, and they must be easy to use.

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace , Orkney and Shetland

I strongly endorse the views advanced by the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Ms Jackson). With regard to the declaration of the North sea as a special area for oil under MARPOL, the marine pollution convention, can the Minister tell us what progress has been made in establishing special area for oil status, as recommended by Lord Donaldson? As that would virtually ban all discharges of oily waste, is the Minister confident that there are sufficient waste reception facilities in UK ports to meet any resulting increase in demand?

Photo of Mr John Bowis Mr John Bowis , Battersea

On the last point, I can confirm that progress has been made. We have reached the stage where that will occur.

On that happy note, I can pass on to the amendment. We have no difficulty with the aims of the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Ms Jackson). Harbour authorities in the United Kingdom have for many years been required to ensure the provision of adequate reception facilities for ships' waste. We will use the power provided by clause 5 to make regulations on waste management planning. We believe that the planning process will ensure that all ports, harbours and marinas comply with the existing requirement to ensure the provision of adequate facilities.

We do not need the amendments, because we can and will deal with the matters covered by them, and they were all covered by the merchant shipping notice that the Marine Safety Agency issued last year. The notice requests that all ports, harbours, marinas and oil terminals develop plans on a voluntary basis pending the introduction of legislation, and recommends that in preparing plans consideration should be given to the assessment and monitoring of the types and quantities of waste discharged, the development of effective procedures for informing port users about waste reception facilities, how the charging mechanism might influence the use of facilities, and measures to ensure ease of use.

Those matters will all be covered by the regulations that we shall make under the power provided by clause 5. The amendments are unnecessary. Clause 5 will shortly be in force, I hope, and we can implement the Bill as an Act for the protection of the seas and seafarers.

Photo of Glenda Jackson Glenda Jackson Shadow Spokesperson (Transport)

In the light of the Minister's reassurance, which is welcome not only to the Opposition but to everyone who has an interest in the Bill, and in the certainty that, although we would have preferred to see the word "disincentive" in the Bill, the end that we all hope to achieve will be realisable, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Order for Third Reading read.—[Queen's Consent and Prince of Wales's Consent signified.]

Photo of George Young George Young Secretary of State for Transport 8:26 pm, 17th March 1997

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

The Bill set sail from another place towards the end of last year and has had a relatively serene passage before docking in the House tonight. A brief return passage will be necessary to deal with new clause 2, but I hope that that will not be too long delayed.

The Bill demonstrates our commitment to driving up standards of maritime safety and reducing the risk of pollution for our waters and our coastline. We have built on the recommendations in Lord Donaldson's report, "Safer Ships, Cleaner Seas".

Following its introduction, the Bill has benefited from lively, high-quality, informed discussion. I am grateful to my hon. Friends and to Opposition Members for their contributions during the Bill's passage. I am particularly grateful to my noble Friend the Minister for Aviation and Shipping for his role in guiding the Bill through another place, and for the contributions of their noble Lordships. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, on whose broad shoulders has fallen the responsibility of negotiating the passage of the Bill through the House.

We shall seek to ensure that these important and widely supported measures to improve safety and protect the environment at sea are put into practice at the earliest opportunity.

Photo of Andrew Smith Andrew Smith Shadow Secretary of State for Transport 8:27 pm, 17th March 1997

The Minister earlier referred to the spirit of Donaldson. That is indeed the spirit in which the Bill has been approached by both sides of the House. I commend the expertise and experience of Back Benchers and Front Benchers on both sides. I am especially grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Ms Jackson) and to my other hon. Friends, whose experience in relevant matters has been so evident.

This is a good Bill, which will strengthen security at sea and improve the protection of our maritime environment. That does not mean that it is a perfect Bill. We were pleased to be able to improve it a little with our new clause on training. There are remaining concerns about the availability of salvage expertise, the provision of standby tugs and the operation of waste facilities.

The Government's argument on all those matters has been that the powers already exist or that they are acting anyway. I refer particularly to the designation of marine environmental high risk areas. We were assured that it was the Government's intention to get those designated and that that was expected later this year. We are not satisfied with the progress that the Government have made. They say that the powers exist and that matters are in train. I give a pledge that whereas the present Government have so far failed to designate those areas, the next Government will certainly do so.

The Bill is a step forward. Let us see it passed into law without further delay.

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace , Orkney and Shetland 8:29 pm, 17th March 1997

I also commend the passage and Third Reading of the Bill. Subject to some reservations that the hon. Member for Oxford, East (Mr. Smith) mentioned—not least the absence of any significant progress in designating marine environmental high risk areas—many of the Bill's provisions implement the recommendations of Lord Donaldson's report, "Safer Ships, Cleaner Seas". The report was commissioned following the grounding of the Braer in my constituency in January 1993, and my constituents remain concerned about the absence of salvage tugs, for example. Although many—if not most—of Lord Donaldson's recommendations have been implemented, gaps remain in the area of marine pollution prevention. I am sure that the House will return to those issues regularly.

The Braer incident gave rise to Lord Donaldson's report and to many compensation claims that have been processed by the International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund. Under clause 26 of the Bill, the fund will continue to enjoy the exemptions of the International Organisations Act 1968, although the United Kingdom's membership of the 1971 fund may terminate. I understand that that fund will be superseded by a 1992 fund, which implements British protocols that came into force on 30 May last year—regrettably, too late to increase the amount of compensation available for victims of the Sea Empress or the Braer incidents. As the House is continuing privileges by virtue of that clause, I wish to register the continuing unhappiness and dissatisfaction of many of my constituents at the way in which outstanding claims, still unpaid by the 1971 fund, are being protracted.

In many cases, the claims and the amounts have been agreed, yet the moratorium means that people cannot be paid. In the past fortnight, one constituent told me that his business was threatened as a result of the delay. Another constituent wrote to me last week to say that she cannot reroof her house as the money has not come through, and her property is deteriorating. The Government believe, as all hon. Members do, that the polluter should pay. Unfortunately, in this case, those who have been polluted are paying the penalty.

While the 1971 IOPCF is operating within its legal rights by enforcing court orders for expenses at interim stages, my experience of the Scottish courts is that that right is not usually exercised. All questions of expenses are usually settled at the end when the case is finally determined. That is proving to be a particular financial burden on many of my constituents. I pay tribute to Viscount Goschen, the Minister for Aviation and Shipping in another place, to his officials and to those at the Scottish Office who have worked co-operatively on those matters. I hope that, when the executive of the 1971 fund meets next month, representatives of Her Majesty's Government will confirm that we intend to continue the privileges, although we may terminate membership of the fund. As we are doing it a favour, the executive might wish to address the continuing concerns of many of my constituents.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed, with amendments.