Waste Reception Facilities at Harbours

Part of Merchant Shipping and Maritime Security Bill [Lords] – in the House of Commons at 8:15 pm on 17th March 1997.

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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.