It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Caton. I think everybody here supports the Bill, not least the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse, who signed the original documents. Hopefully, it will be a short but meaningful sitting.
Amendment 1 is necessary to provide clarity on the applicability to Government ships of the international convention on the removal of wrecks. The Bill as published will enable the United Kingdom to ratify and implement the convention by providing the basis on which the convention’s provisions may be applied in the UK and a zone extending up to 200 miles from our shores. Clause 1 will insert new sections 225A to 225U, forming a new part 9A, and a schedule, 11ZA, into the Merchant Shipping Act 1995. The Government propose to commence the provisions when the convention comes into force.
At present, the current arrangements do not allow any of the UK bodies with powers to deal with wrecks, including ships in danger and objects lost at sea, to intervene in relation to non-UK ships.
Thank you, Mr Caton. You are very generous and we will now proceed even more quickly.
In other words, if the ship is a non-registered ship we cannot intervene, not even to protect our environment outside of our territorial waters, even if there is a risk of pollution.
There is also currently no general legal requirement that a ship owner remove a wreck or pay for its removal—an anomaly in the law I am sure we would all want taxpayers to be protected from—including the costs incurred by the UK authorities, such as harbour authorities, general lighthouse authorities and the Secretary of State’s representative. In practice, the actions of owners and insurers are influenced by the value of what can be recovered. That should not be so and it is why we will address the matter in the Bill, which is being promoted brilliantly by my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal. Those actions mean that a significant proportion of the costs associated with locating, marking and removing wrecks will continue to be met by UK taxpayers and the payers of light and harbour dues. That is inappropriate in the 21st century. In line with the “polluter pays” principle, the owner of a ship creating a problem should bear those costs.
Subject to some limited exceptions, the Bill will improve our response to wrecks and, crucially, ensure that owners of ships are responsible for the costs of wrecks and the hazards they cause, and that owners of larger ships maintain insurance to deal with those costs.
One such exception relates to Government ships, which is understandable. Warships, and ships for the time being used by a state for non-commercial purposes, will be excluded by virtue of subsection (1) of new section 255S. As the Bill is drafted, there is a risk that that exception might be construed as applying equally to ships moving non-commercial cargo—for example, equipment belonging to the armed forces—and commercial cargo, which would broaden the scope of the exception beyond what is permissible under the international convention. The amendment will obviate that risk by making it absolutely clear that the exception is limited to ships being used by a state for non-commercial purposes only.
‘( ) In section 315(2) to (5) (power to extend Act to relevant British possessions) a reference to the Merchant Shipping Act 1995 includes a reference to that Act as amended by this Act.’.
With your permission, Mr Caton, I do not wish to go into too much detail about the clause again. Let me just say that the amendment is necessary to ensure that the powers contained in section 315 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995 will apply to the changes made to that Act by this Bill, in the same way that they apply to the Act’s existing provisions. This will enable the Bill’s provisions to be extended to any relevant British possession by Order in Council as and when it is judged necessary.
In practice, it is usually the case that the larger overseas territories enact their own provisions in their own legislatures when such measures are needed to discharge the United Kingdom’s convention obligations. However, for those territories that are either too small or where such an approach is unsuitable, Orders in Council under section 315, which allows suitable exceptions, adaptations, and modifications, would be appropriate, and the amendment fulfils that requirement.