HC Deb 15 July 1994 vol 246 cc1276-92


Lords amendment: No. 1, in page 2, line 5, at end insert— ("(7) A draft of an Order in Council proposed to be made by virtue of subsection (3) above shall not be submitted to Her Majesty in Council unless the draft has been approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.")

9.36 am
Mr. David.Harris (St. Ives)

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Before I deal with amendment No. 1, I should like to begin by paying a tribute, and giving my thanks, to Lord Donaldson—I see many of my colleagues clutching copies of his report "Safer Ships and Cleaner Seas" in their hands; undoubtedly, they will be referring to it—and Lord Mustill, who assumed stewardship of the Bill in another place. Both of them put the wealth of their knowledge of maritime law to the service of the Bill, and I am grateful for that. Two Ministers in another place, Lord Mackay, the Minister for Aviation and Shipping, and Baroness Trumpington for the Department of National Heritage—there is an amendment touching on national heritage matters which we shall come to later—also tabled useful amendments which I hope will commend themselves to the House.

None of the amendments affects the policy aims of the Bill earlier agreed by the House. Indeed, the amendments would ensure that those aims are met. Amendment No. 1 makes subordinate legislation made under clause 1 subject to parliamentary control. Clause 1 would permit the implementation and ratification of the 1989 international convention on salvage. As my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway) explained to the House on Third Reading, the aim of the salvage convention is to encourage salvors to get, and to stay, involved in salvage operations when there is a threat of marine pollution. The convention does that by assuring salvors that when there is a threat of pollution, they will at least recover their expenses. Of course, that will give them a great incentive to see a job through, or at least to attempt to salvage a vessel in difficult circumstances.

Clause 1 (3) allows any subsequent revision of the salvage convention to be given effect in the United Kingdom by means of an Order in Council amending schedule 1. Schedule 1 sets out the articles in the salvage convention and related provisions. Similar provision was made in earlier Acts of Parliament for the domestic implementation of internationally agreed amendments to international agreements. For example, section 14(5) of the Merchant Shipping Act 1979 allows revision of the 1974 convention relating to the carriage of passengers and their luggage by sea to be implemented by Order in Council. Section 15(2) of that Act, however, provides for parliamentary control, in that a draft of the Order in Council must first be approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.

In its report dated 24 May 1994, the House of Lords Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee noted the absence in clause 1 of provision for parliamentary control of the exercise of powers conferred by subsection (3). I accept that the implementation of amendments to the salvage convention should be subject to parliamentary control. Amendment No. 1 adds a new subsection (7) to clause 1, requiring that a draft of any order made under subsection (3) to give effect to the revision of the salvage convention be approved by a resolution of both Houses of Parliament.

Mr. Gary Streeter (Plymouth, Sutton)

I have reservations about Lords amendment No. 1. First, I must declare an interest as I am a partner in a firm of solicitors—which has a marine department, although I am not involved in it—in Plymouth. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris) for introducing the Bill. He is known in the west country as a veritable champion of all matters maritime.

I have grave concerns about Lords amendment No. 1 because I believe that it will be increasingly necessary to amend our salvage legislation. I am concerned that, if we make those matters that are to be dealt with by Order in Council subject to scrutiny, we might introduce an element of delay, which would be unfortunate and undesirable.

The Law Commission recently expressed concern about the backlog of its reports published since 1969 but not brought into law. Those reports might involve legislation and that is an expression of how difficult it is to find sufficient parliamentary time to introduce desirable and necessary measures. By this year, 35 Law Commission reports were awaiting implementation by the House. The primary reason for the delay was not that anyone disagreed with their contents but the difficulty in finding sufficient parliamentary time. We must consider that problem.

While amending the international convention on salvage and United Kingdom law covering such matters is of primary concern to those who are actively involved in salvage operations and maritime issues, one can easily imagine how such matters might constantly fall to the back of the queue in our proceedings.

As is often the case, the amendment would have an unforeseen consequence. It was tabled by well-meaning people, but could be counter-productive. I cite as support for my arguments the fact that there have been many revisions during the past 30 years or so to the approach that the Lloyd's insurance market takes to salvage. Insurance is central to the whole issue.

There have been changes to the Lloyd's standard form of salvage since the turn of the century, but there have been three revisions in the past 20 years. We all know that the old maxim, "No cure, no pay" used to govern the approach to salvage. That position has gradually changed during the past 20 or 30 years.

Mr. Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne)

My hon. Friend may have answered his own question. The salvage industry and the insurance market are often able to react much more quickly to circumstances than the House. That is why Lloyd's open form, which is used to dispose of about 74 per cent. of salvage cases, is changed from time to time. Does that not solve the very problem that my hon. Friend is bringing to the attention of the House?

Mr. Streeter

My hon. Friend makes my point for me. How absurd it would be if the Lloyd's provisions were out of step with United Kingdom law and the parliamentary procedures and convention that we are following. It is important for such matters to go forward step by step. If we make them the subject of parliamentary scrutiny, with all the in-built delays that that involves, it could make us out of step with the commercial realities of the marketplace.

9.45 am
Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere)

My hon Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) makes an important point, although one does not necessarily draw the same conclusion as he does. Is it not right that matters as important as salvage and the protection of the environment should be protected by the force of law, rather than left to the vicissitudes of the market and of freedom of contract? There will always be unscrupulous owners and ships' masters who feel that they are under pressure. Is it not right that such matters should have the force of law and that we should give the environment the best possible protection?

Mr. Streeter

I thank my hon. Friend for his invaluable contribution. He is entirely right. It is important for such matters to be protected by the full force of the law, but that must be done in a way that reflects the commercial realities and the pace of change in the marketplace.

The recent Donaldson report gives us further evidence that salvage law is changing rapidly. Recommendations 85 and 86 of that report suggest that ocean-going salvage tugs should be made readily available. If we incorporate the provisions of the international salvage convention into our law in the near future, the market will shortly afterwards ask us to change those principles because of commercial pressures. I urge the House to put in place a system that will enable us to respond rapidly to such commercial pressures.

Mr. Michael Bates (Langbaurgh)

Was not one of the matters raised in the Donaldson report the establishment of high-risk areas, a point which relates to my hon. Friend's argument? Does he agree that, in the context of the insurance market, such high-risk areas may lead to an unnecessary burden being placed on the most sensitive parts of the market—the parts that are most in need of protection? That might dissuade people in the market, but surely the protection of the environment is far more important. Is that not another endorsement for what he is suggesting?

Mr. Streeter

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has also made a valuable contribution to the debate.

There is another reason why it would be a little foolhardy to accept the amendment. Our salvage law may need to be amended rapidly. A recent case that arose in the west country concerned the sinking of the trawler Pescado off the shores of Devon and Cornwall in late 1991. The vessel was brought to the surface after two years by new salvors, after many false attempts by the original salvage operators, who were brought in by the police. For the families of those who lost their lives on the Pescado, that was a time of great distress and humiliation. Local television stations covered each attempt to raise the vessel and the families hopes were raised, only to be dashed, through the incompetence of the original salvors.

We are not far from the introduction of a range of measures to deal with the quality and competence of salvors operating off the shores of the United Kingdom, to protect people such as the families of those who so tragically lost their lives in the Pescado. That is another reason why it would not be right for us to commit ourselves to a procedure that cannot guarantee urgent ministerial attention and implementation. I believe that that further supports my argument. The Bill introduces into English law the issues arising out of the international convention on salvage. We now need to see an upgrading of firms that are involved in salvage operations.

A measure that may need to be brought forward is one to increase the rewards available to the people who are involved in the operation. We must see an increase in the number and quality of salvors operating from the United Kingdom. For those reasons, I express reservations about Lords amendment No. 1. It is right that the power to respond to an ever-changing marketplace should lie in the hands of the Executive, and it is right that we should be able to introduce changes to the law in relation to salvage quickly, and not await parliamentary time.

Mr. Piers Merchant (Beckenham)

This is a small but important amendment, which raises some issues of constitutional significance. I do not wish to delay the House, but I want to raise two important points.

The first has to do with the principle of subordinate legislation, with which the amendment deals. I observed when I spoke at the early stages of the Bill that it did not deal with the issue of passing back delegated powers to the House for scrutiny. It is not that I lack confidence in my hon. Friend the Minister or in other colleagues in the Government, and I realise that it is necessary for orders to be made in many cases under many Acts of Parliament. It is simply a matter of a thousand eyes being better than two.

Where changes in the law are proposed, the House should at least have the opportunity to scrutinise them. That is why I disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Streeter), who I know is an advocate of legislation on that. I understand the reason why he stresses the importance of speed—I do not quibble with that—but I do not agree that changes in legislation would necessarily be held up by requiring this House and the other place to scrutinise them.

There are ways to ensure that that is done speedily through the usual channels if a particular emergency has to be dealt with. Accuracy is more important than speed, so it is important that any changes made to the law should be properly scrutinised. That was picked up by the Delegated Powers Committee in its report on 24 May, and that is rightly what informs us of the need for the Lords amendment.

There are wider constitutional reasons why it is important for secondary legislation to be properly scrutinised, and those relate to the authority of this place. This place exists to sanction and approve the law and if we increasingly encourage other ways by which the law can be amended or changed by diktat, that inevitably diminishes the powers, authority and responsibility of this place. Those powers have been built up over many centuries, often following great difficulty and struggle, and it is important that they are preserved.

There is also the simple and practical reason that our constituents expect and require us to be aware of changes in the law, and to look closely at, and to scrutinise, those changes. If there is a system where major changes in the law can be easily made, without reference to the House, we are put in the extraordinary position of having to say to our constituents that not only are we unable to make representations on the matter but we have no powers, responsibility or involvement. They would find that difficult to take, and we would find it difficult to justify.

Secondly, the international aspect is significant. This is a matter of considerable controversy at present, principally because of the European Union legislation. Many of my hon. Friends regard it as a dangerous trend that it is increasingly possible for those in Brussels, who have no elected status, to tinker with, and to change, the law of this country, often in a simple and easy fashion.

It worries me that we had, or still have until the amendment is finally accepted, a situation where the law can be changed effectively at international level. I appreciate that the regulations would actually pass through our constitutional process, but the reality is that negotiations could take place in an international forum where we are represented by a Minister or, effectively at some levels, by officials. A deal could be done and something that is not palatable could be accepted, perhaps without the full implications being realised. We could end up with a de facto situation where an international committee, comprising of a large majority of people who are not British, makes a decision which, through this process, slips into British law. That is a dangerous precedent. The matter that is agreed may not be one of any controversy, but it could be. It is necessary that the House ensures that there is a safeguard against that happening.

That is why I think that the Lords amendment is extremely important, why I fully support it, why I hope that it is incorporated into the Bill and why I beg to disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton, although I respect his views.

Mr. Roger Knapman (Stroud)

I agree with all that my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Merchant) has said. I have looked at the speech of the noble Lord Donaldson, as well as at the offerings from my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris), and I congratulate them both on the way in which they have brought forward the Bill. When someone as learned as the noble Lord says that he is proposing a small technical amendment, it is normally time to dive for cover. In this case, I entirely agree that the amendment, which deals with an Order in Council under clause 1(3)—I presume that that is the clause to which the noble Lord was referring—is absolutely necessary.

I listened with care to the excellent speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Streeter). It is always encouraging to hear a member of the legal profession arguing for directness and speed. Sadly, however, at that stage I must part company with him. Such is the apparent need for speed—I am sure that this will not be taken as a savage attack on the usual channels—that we have, according to my hon. Friend, 35 law reports which are waiting to pass through the House. That is indeed a matter for the usual channels.

My hon. Friend said that this is such an important matter that we should bypass this place. I would merely say that, by the time that we have government by the Privy Council, government from Brussels and government by international convention, the press may indeed start to wonder why we are being paid any salaries at all.

I strongly support the amendment, and I look forward to what my hon. Friend the Minister has to say. I hope that he will be able to confirm that nothing can happen unless the matters come before the House of Commons.

Mr. Waterson

I am delighted to be here today to have an opportunity to speak on this important Bill and finally to wish it godspeed through the last of the legislative process. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Streeter) I should declare an interest as an Admiralty solicitor. I should also perhaps declare a more obvious interest, which is that I represent a coastal constituency—the most attractive coastal constituency represented in the House.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris) who is a doughty campaigner for the sea and for those who earn their living on the sea. He has fought hard not only for the Bill but for other legislation for the sea. His constituents and all those with an interest in seafaring and the sea's environment already owe him a great debt. They will owe him an even greater one after the Bill is passed.

10 am

I join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to Lord Mustill. I also join in paying tribute to the learned Lord Donaldson for his magisterial publication on the Braer disaster, which contained 103 recommendations. I am sure that the House will refer back to that publication many times in the next few years.

We are considering the implementation of the salvage convention of 1989. I support amendment No 1, the drafting of which is analogous with that of the Merchant Shipping Act 1979. It is important that Parliament has a say in any future changes to the convention. As my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Merchant) said so eloquently, that convention will become part of our domestic law, so it would be quite wrong if the House had no say in any future changes to it.

We would all hope, of course, that any amendments to the convention would be sufficiently sensible and practicable to command widespread support in all parts of the House, but there is no guarantee of that. We are talking about important matters. The Lloyd's open form system operates in 74 per cent. of salvage incidents, but a substantial number are left as a matter for general law. The salvage convention reflects much of what is contained in the latest version of Lloyd's open form, but should the convention be altered in the future, such change must be approved by the House. If any change were needed urgently, following a particular disaster such as the Braer, I am sure that those amendments would be passed by the House and the other place with great rapidity.

As someone who represents a coastal constituency, I believe that it is essential that we maintain our crucial right to consider, and to approve or otherwise, any changes that are made to the salvage convention. The British Government will continue to have the opportunity to make representations, through the International Maritime Organisation, on any amendments to the convention, but it is necessary that the House and the other place should maintain the right to have a genuine debate on any suggested changes.

Sadly, this country, perhaps more than any other, has had more experience that any other of major shipping accidents such as the Braer and the Torrey Canyon disasters. We have a major interest in putting our point of view not only to ensure that whatever changes are suggested are sensible and have the desired effect but to protect our essential national interest—the coastlines of our constituencies, such as Eastbourne—from the pollution caused by such disasters.

I warmly welcome the amendment, which I support.

Mr. Bates

I, too, must part company with my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Streeter), who is a doughty fighter on coastal matters and takes a great interest in maritime issues. I fear that he is wrong on this particular occasion, because parliamentary scrutiny allows a number of different factors to come into play that may not be considered by, for example, the marine accident investigation branch.

My argument is based on what happened in my constituency a couple of years ago. A 5,000 tonne Swedish registered vessel, the SK Link, with a cargo of forest materials, tragically caught ablaze 10 miles off the coast of my constituency. It drifted with the tidal flows towards the coast and caused great anxiety to many of my constituents. The marine accident investigation branch paid particular attention to how the fire had started, the structure of the vessel and its safety provisions. It was unable, however, to consider the issue that was of prime concern to my constituents—the risk faced by the team of fire fighters from the Cleveland county fire brigade, who were airlifted onto the vessel to try to tackle the blaze. They discovered that the cargo included 38 tonnes of sodium chlorate, which could have exploded at any time.

Those fire fighters are paid for and accountable to my constituents and their safety is of prime concern to them. As my constituents' parliamentary representative, I should have the opportunity to scrutinise any incident in which those fire fighters are involved. If I cannot discuss in the House a potential risk to the lives of my constituents, and if that is not counted as legitimate use of parliamentary time, I wonder what can be.

It is vital that Parliament should be able to scrutinise the international conventions, such as the convention for safety of lives at sea, chapter 7 of which relates to the carriage of dangerous goods. If we had had a debate on what happened to the fire fighters in my constituency, that chapter could have been amended to avoid similar risks in the future.

Teesport is the second busiest container port in the country and it handles 43 million tonnes of cargo. It faces increasing risks because oil and gas come on shore through the central area transmission system pipeline at Teesside.

I have had a number of discussions with the Cleveland county fire brigade about the risks posed, as well as discussions with the environmental protection officers at the various district councils. There are question marks about safety and great concern has also been expressed about the effect on the environment of any accident. The local authority has taken great interest and made great strides in developing environmentally protected areas. It has established wildlife parks and the area is noted for the particular beauty of Seal sands and the coastline around my constituency at Saltburn. Northumbrian Water is spending about £13 million to try to clean those beaches, one disaster such as the SK Link, when oil poured on to the beaches of my constituency, would cost the local authority thousands of pounds. Because of our constituents' concerns, we have a right to scrutinise any convention. We would be able to offer an added, helpful dimension to any discussions.

Great concern has been expressed about certain high risk areas. In the current stringent trading conditions, many companies find it difficult to operate. Companies feel that, however worthy it is, the proposals in the Donaldson report on high risk areas may attract a higher premium which could place added burdens on business. Business, local authorities, fire brigades, my constituents and representatives of environmental protection areas have a right to have their voices heard and their scrutiny applied to legislation. That is why I endorse Lords amendment. No. 1.

Mr. Roger Evans (Monmouth)

Clause 1(3) is a classic King James II clause. It really is historically unacceptable for the Crown, by treaty, to alter the rights of property and the obligations of subjects. That is why the amendment is so fundamental and important.

It has not been stressed that the key to the legislation is contained in schedule 1, and in particular in articles 13 and 14 of schedule 1, which are parts of the treaty. They are of fundamental importance. They redefine the liabilities to pay for salvage and how much salvors can be rewarded. They are classic examples of property rights and obligations, and they should be determined by Parliament and not by the Crown by the exercise of the prerogative.

Mr. Clappison

Legally, my hon. Friend has hit the nail on the head. Does he agree that articles 13 and 14 can properly be described as the regulation of economic relationships? However, is not it the case that, as with all economic relationships, they might need to be revised from time to time?

Mr. Evans

I agree entirely, but the difference, for the first time, is that when Lloyd's of London is so attacked from all quarters these days, we should recall that Lloyd's of London has a tremendous historic past and, one trusts, a future in marine insurance, that the triumph of Lloyd's of London was that the greater part of shipping collisions were arbitrated in London by arbitrators appointed by the Committee of Lloyd's, and that a small band of very distinguished experts—London Admiralty solicitors, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) and members of the Admiralty Bar—over a long period established a substantial world dominance in this aspect. How that dominance appears in the invisible balance of payments statistics, I have never begun to understand. It is a classic example of the leadership of this country and the leadership of London being ignored by those who look at manufactured metal boxes which are much easier to count.

The point about that system was that Lloyd's of London had an agreement and could do things on a contractual basis. As was urged, one can see how contractual relations need to be brought up to date.

What provoked the recent convention—it is the key to this matter—is that the matter cannot be left any longer simply to those who are sinking and those who are going to save them because of the environmental issue, which means that, as a matter of public law and international law, it is necessary to protect our coastlines by superimposing and defining upon those contractual arrangements some public obligations and duties.

The important point is contained in article 13(1)(b), which states: the skills and efforts of the salvors in preventing or minimising damage to the environment". That is an absolutely fundamental aspect.

Similarly, article 14(1) states: If the salvor has carried out salvage operations in respect of a vessel which by itself or its cargo threatened damage to the environment and has failed to earn a reward under article 13 at least equivalent to the special compensation assessable in accordance with this article, he shall be entitled to special compensation". The rub of the argument in the international convention was exactly how we deal with the aspect of the environment and the payments to one side or the obligation of the other to pay. There was also a big dispute between this side of the Atlantic and the other side of the Atlantic—it used to be done on a pro rata basis—as to whether the cargo or the ship should pay and in what proportions. That was resolved in the convention by article 16.

I believe that, by a brief description of the guts of the matter, one can see that the most important types of social and public obligations and very serious questions of liability and rights to compensation are defined by this legislation—we hope. That is highly desirable. It is an excellent Bill, but it would be wrong to allow the Crown, by Order in Council—the Privy Council—as a matter purely of Executive power, to alter all that. That is why the Lords Committee was absolutely right to pick up that constitutional error in the Bill, and that is why I commend Lords amendment No. 1 to the House.

Mr. Clappison

I welcome the opportunity to make a short contribution on the importance of amendment No. 1, which goes to the heart of some important environmental issues. Before doing so, it would be a wise precaution for me to declare an interest as an underwriting member of Lloyd's, which these days seems to provoke certain interest in certain quarters. It might be wise to declare that interest now, in case Hansard is read in certain quarters on Monday and I find myself alleged to be part of a giant conspiracy involving amendment No. 1.

10.15 am

I wish to speak strongly in support of my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Streeter) and redress the balance, which has been in favour of strict constitutionality. Perhaps, at the end of the day, together with my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton, I will have to defer to the voice of strict constitutionality, as expressed by my hon. Friends the Members for Stroud (Mr. Knapman) and for Beckenham (Mr. Merchant).

My hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. Evans) hit the nail on the head, as I suggested in my intervention, in his analysis of the legal implications of the amendment. However, I might place more emphasis than my hon. Friend did on the environmental implications which follow from leaving such matters to the law of contract and to the economic relationships between contracting parties.

Protection of the environment must be the top priority. It is right that public law should override freedom of contract and reinforce the protection that has been given under the Lloyd's open forms. There have been too many cases, I suspect—this matter was dealt with very well in Committee—when important environmental matters have been at risk when ships are sinking and salvors are considering whether to go to the rescue, and there is hesitation and delay while parties argue about terms in a contract. The environment is just too important for that; it should not be left to such hazards. We should have a clear public law regime that sets out the rights and liabilities of the parties.

Such rights and liabilities may require revision. I am constantly surprised at how late the forces of law have been brought to bear upon the subject. The environment is so vital that the matter should have been dealt with years ago. Now, relatively late in the day, the needs of the environment have been brought into the equation. Perhaps further revisions will be needed to reassess, for example, the balance between risk and reward or to set a higher reward for salvors if salvors do not come forward because of the rewards that are provided for them in environmental cases. They might feel that the incentives are just not great enough for them to take the risk involved in going to the rescue of a ship. Perhaps the incentives will not be entirely effective. If that is so, I for one would be happy to take part in a revision.

I warn my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud and other hon. Friends who talked about strict constitutionality and the use of parliamentary time that it may be necessary for the matter, if it is to be subject to the House and to Parliament, to come back before the House on several future occasions so that we can act in the best interests of the environment and fine-tune the legislation to the needs of the environment.

It is an important issue. There are many other ways in which the law could be developed, not least to take account of marine environment high-risk areas, which is one of the most important recommendations in the Donaldson report. I can see no reason why a way cannot be found to take account of that in regulating such relationships, to provide higher incentives in such cases and to reward responsible masters and shipowners who use routes which put the environment at the least risk.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sutton put the matter most succinctly. I have expressed concern during the passage of the legislation and said that we should put the highest possible priority on the protection of the environment. I am happy to support the sentiments expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton, even if, at the end of the day, we have to defer to the voice of strict constitutionality.

Ms Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North)

Many Tory Members have expressed their thanks and gratitude to the noble Lords in the other place. May I place on record my gratitude to Lord Clinton-Davis, who gave full co-operation to the Bill but has not been mentioned in previous speeches. [Interruption.] Hon. Members tell me that the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris) referred to him.

Mr. Harris

indicated dissent.

Ms Walley

Oh, the hon. Member for St. Ives apparently did not mention the noble Lord. Clearly, I should not accept contributions made from a sedentary position.

Mr. Harris

I did not mention Lord Clinton-Davis, but I am happy to join the hon. Lady in thanking him for the valuable contributions that he made in the other place.

Ms Walley

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman.

Amendment No. 1 deals with parliamentary scrutiny. I am heartened by the huge number of well-informed, brief contributions that we have had from Tory Members who are suddenly interested in merchant shipping and want to participate in a debate on parliamentary scrutiny—issues which the Labour party has been trying to raise for a long time. It is ironic that so many people are suddenly so concerned about parliamentary scrutiny. In reality, it is a well-orchestrated filibuster of today's business, because parliamentary scrutiny should also be given to the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill and the Energy Conservation Bill.

Mr. Bates

The hon. Lady should also place on record the fact that only one Labour Member is in the Chamber this morning. It is all very well for her to talk about the importance of the environment, but by turning out and discussing the environment, Conservative Members are declaring the fact that they are serious about it and interested in it, whereas the vacant Benches behind the hon. Lady demonstrate eloquently the Labour party's position.

Ms Walley

The Bill has come forward only because the Government were not prepared to deal with the international convention on salvage. We have raised the matter time and again in Committee, but the Government refused to bring forward their own legislation to deal with merchant shipping and pollution. It is only because they have relied on the admirable efforts of the hon. Member for St. Ives to rescue them for their failure to deal with merchant shipping that the Bill has now been through its Committee and Lords stages and returned here. It has therefore had all the debate that it needs and it should now be a matter of rubber stamping the amendments before us.

Mr. Roger Evans

It is absolutely astonishing and an indictment of the whole parliamentary process that the Bill got as far as it did before clause 1(3) was picked up by the Lords Committee. It is up to us to put it right this morning.

Ms Walley

That proves that, had the Government been prepared to prioritise merchant shipping and introduce proper legislation rather than legislate in a backhand way through a private Member's Bill, the Bill would have been carefully prepared and we would not have to pick up mistakes at this late stage.

The hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) tabled a great number of amendments to block the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris)

Order. Will the hon. Lady return to amendment No. 1, please?

Ms Walley

Amendment No. 1 deals with parliamentary scrutiny.

Mr. Quentin Davies (Stamford and Spalding)

A moment ago, the hon. Lady said that she thought that the House should rubber stamp the Lords amendments. Will she think again about the phrase, "rubber stamp"? Is it not the obverse of proper parliamentary scrutiny?

Ms Walley

We want parliamentary mechanisms that enable us to deal with the issues of the day and to introduce parliamentary legislation that has been thoroughly researched and well prepared within the overall agenda of the Government's legislation. If that had been done in respect of the 1989 international salvage convention, we would not be dealing with this Bill. The later issue of parliamentary scrutiny had not been included and we are not dealing with it as I should have liked, partly because priority has not been given to merchant shipping. Indeed, the House of Commons does not even have a Minister responsible for shipping—he sits in the other place Those issues must be borne in mind.

In view of all that has been said this morning on parliamentary scrutiny, will the Minister say whether that will conflict with the provisions of the Bill on deregulation and contracting out? I agree with the hon. Member for Stamford and Spalding (Mr. Davies) that parliamentary scrutiny is absolutely important. Members of Parliament need to know exactly what legislation we are passing and be involved in the procedure of drawing up legislation. I welcome an amendment that will give proper parliamentary scrutiny to subsequent orders of this kind. Bearing in mind not just what is contained in the draconian first part of the Bill on deregulation and contracting out but that many issues relating to deregulation and contracting out could be taken away from this place, could the matter that we are now discussing be taken away at a later stage because of that?

Clause 1 was drawn up because we need to ratify the 1989 international salvage convention. I would welcome any subsequent conventions that arise out of that convention, or out of the International Maritime Organisation or European organisations, which would enable us better to respond to ships in distress and prevent environmental catastrophes.

Other issues arose from the Donaldson report, which many hon. Members have before them. Although those may not relate directly to the international salvage convention, they should be brought forward urgently. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has raised some specific issues with me. As so many other issues need to be addressed, the Minister's response may be an opportunity for him to say whether he now proposes to introduce new regulations to implement the recommendations of the Donaldson inquiry, which could be part and parcel of clause 1. Will he introduce the mandatory routing of oil tankers to avoid hazardous areas of sea? Which of Donaldson's recommendations does he expect the shipping and ports industry to deal with voluntarily?

Mr. Waterson

Does the hon. Lady agree that one of the main benefits of the Bill is that, by extending the strict liability to vessels other than laden oil tankers, part II, schedule 3 may help to deal with many clandestine and apparently minor discharges of bunker oil along our coastline which, on a daily basis, is very damaging to our natural wildlife, particularly to birds?

Ms Walley

The hon. Gentleman makes an important case and I entirely agree with him. I am pleased that we are dealing not only with catastrophes but with the regular, consistent discharge of bunker oil into the sea, which is not properly dealt with at present. It may be better to debate that matter under clause 6, but it may also relate to the parliamentary scrutiny that we are discussing now. In which case, this might be an opportunity for the Minister to elaborate further on the Government's policy on ports.

It is clear from recent parliamentary questions that I have asked about whether the Minister will introduce regulations to deal with facilities for the ports and ways in which legal discharges can be made—[interruption.] I have just accepted an intervention on the subject, which is part and parcel of the parliamentary scrutiny that we are discussing. I agree that the issue of facilities in ports cannot be left to the marketplace.

Having made those few comments, I look forward to the Minister's reply.

10.30 am
The Minister for Transport in London (Mr. Steve Norris)

I commend my hon. Friend the Member for St Ives (Mr. Harris) for his customary assiduity in introducing the amendment, and I join him in thanking noble Lords in another place who have helped to sponsor the amendments to the Bill that we wish to make this morning.

The lonely vigil of the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms Walley) on the Opposition Benches is notable for the very reason that she should recall more than she has—she alone appears to have the slightest interest in these important topics. By contrast, my hon. Friends have contributed to an extraordinarily high-quality debate on an extremely important issue. It is a bit rich for the hon. Lady to talk in terms of a sudden interest because it would be useful if the Labour party took a sudden interest in who governs the country, which is what the amendment is about. It has been notable over the years that the Labour party has been solely concerned to ensure that it introduced the sort of socialistic nonsense that the electors of this country will never take through the front door as they have shown by their affection for the Government—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is getting a head of steam and must return to amendment No. 1.

Mr. Norris

As ever, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you go straight to the heart of it. I was incensed. I crave your indulgence as I did stray, for which I should be reproached, and I am grateful to you. I shall leave my remarks on the record and those who witness our proceedings on television will draw their own conclusions about which side of the House is concerned about marine pollution.

Ms Walley

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Norris

No, I do not have the time to give way to the hon. Lady, as it is important to get on.

I was discussing the useful debate that we have had with my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Patnick). He and I are mere journeymen in the world—we are small business men. When I listened to my hon. Friends the Members for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Streeter), for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterston), for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison), for Langbaurgh (Mr. Bates), for Stroud (Mr. Knapman) and for Monmouth (Mr. Evans) I became terrified at the prospect of ever having to pay my hon. Friends for the sort of contributions that we have just heard free of charge. I am diffident about intervening or responding to the extraordinary outpouring of knowledge that my hon. Friends displayed. I note that my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Merchant) has a degree in law and politics so perhaps, by implication, he is also to be commended for his assiduity.

My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham was right when he said that it was important to ensure that any amendment to the essential provisions of the Bill should be subject to the scrutiny of the House. He made an important point that was underlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud. Without wishing to select one contribution over all the excellent contributions that we have had this morning, I must say that in the House we can effectively scrutinise the changes proposed by others whose interests are not those of the United Kingdom. I believe that that was the expression for which my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham was seeking—the people that we are talking about were not necessarily born in the United Kingdom. We are talking about those who quite properly prosecute interests that are not United Kingdom interests. We want to ensure that when such changes are made, they are made with the full scrutiny of the House. It is important on all such occasions when we, quite properly, enter into international obligations—whether as part of the European Union or any other international forum—that this House remains in control of those negotiations and is able to endorse them after appropriate debate or to reject them if that is appropriate.

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset)

I thank my hon. Friend for giving way—I decided not to make a speech so that we could get on. Will my hon. Friend take up the point that concerns my constituents? Recommendation 9.3 of the Donaldson report mentions the harmful effects of pollution from bunker oil and waste, which are often carried around the world without the facilities to get rid of it. A company called ROIL proposes to place a facility into my constituency, in Portland—all the details have been given to the Minister for Aviation and Shipping. In asking us to ensure that we ratify the conventions, the Government must also help to put in place the necessary facilities.

Mr. Norris

I know that my hon. Friend has submitted full details of the ROIL scheme to my noble Friend the Minister for Aviation and Shipping. No doubt ROIL will continue to press for a waste oil facility and I know that my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Mr. Bruce) will continue to press for new jobs in Portland. I hope that he will not mind if I do not dwell at length on the point that he has made. If I can help to bring the matter to the attention of my noble Friend, I will be happy to do so.

Like all law, conventions adopted within the International Maritime Organisation require amendment from time to time to take account of the changing circumstances in which they operate. I think that my hon. Friends appreciated the fact that many of the amendments are technical and do not necessarily require detailed consideration by a Chamber such as this. The Bill, therefore, provides for those amendments to be implemented by Order in Council—that is perfectly sensible and straightforward. It is clearly right that Parliament should have oversight of the implementation of such amendments. I, therefore, agree with those of my hon. Friends who supported amendment No. 1, which ensures that any future revision of the salvage convention can be simply and rapidly implemented in the United Kingdom, subject to the agreement of this House and the House of Lords.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sutton, who I know is, and has for a long time been, interested in the subject as he has a maritime interest in his constituency, need not worry about the ability of the House to make swift changes and take rapid action should that prove necessary—a point endorsed by my hon. Friend the Member for Langbaurgh. My hon. Friend also mentioned the tragic accident involving the Pescado, which was the subject of a thorough investigation by the marine accident investigation branch.

As my hon. Friend knows, a number of recommendations were made as a result of that report. Some of the recommendations have been made public, some have been communicated to members of the family and others remain to be determined. Following that incident, there is and will remain a procedure that must be followed—whether in relation to tragic accidents such as the Pescado or incidents involving oil pollution—and under which rapid action can be taken and, if necessary, rapid changes can be made to the regulatory framework. None of that will be impeded because the House has the opportunity to endorse such changes where it is felt that they are appropriate.

In this country, we can be proud of the fact that we have the ability swiftly to address the causes of accidents, whether marine, aviation, rail or any other mode of transport to ensure that swift action is taken—I am thinking particularly of the MAIB and the air accident investigation branch. One of the things about which we are concerned is that we should not rush to make regulatory change before we have fully taken account of, for example, the cost that might flow from our over-enthusiasm in dealing with the cause of accidents immediately. I know that my hon. Friend is concerned about the Pescado and I understand his point, but it does not conflict with the intention of this amendment.

If the amendment were not made, there would be no parliamentary oversight of the implementation of any revision of the salvage convention. Those who ask whether this power sanctions the implementation of radical changes to the salvage convention by subordinate legislation need not concern themselves—the answer is clearly no. The power sanctions only the implementation of relatively minor changes to the convention. If the convention needed to be revised extensively, that would be done not by agreeing amendments to the 1989 convention, but by agreeing an entirely new convention. The power of clause 1 (3) would not allow the implementation of a new salvage convention. For that, one would properly require primary legislation.

In answer to a couple of my hon. Friends, we do not anticipate the early need for significant amendments to the 1989 salvage convention, which supersedes a convention that was agreed in 1910. As I think my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne knows, the principles are, in general, well established and such amendment as is necessary is technical—it reflects technical change rather than any amendment of the principle.

The United Kingdom will, of course, ratify the salvage convention shortly after the Bill receives Royal Assent. The convention will enter into force one year after the date on which 15 states have agreed to be bound by its provisions. To date, nine states have made that commitment. The Irish Republic already has legislation in place to permit ratification. Australia and Canada, like the UK, should adopt the necessary legislation shortly. Entry into force in 1995 is, therefore, possible and one can assume that entry into force no later than 1996 is relatively certain. If, this autumn, the number of contracting parties to the salvage convention is still insufficient to bring the convention into force internationally in 1995, the terms of the convention will be applied in UK law from 1 January 1995.

I should like to refer to one or two other points that were made by my hon. Friends during the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Langbaurgh mentioned Teesport. I agree that that is an important matter. I think that he will agree that the issues have been answered, in a sense, by my hon. Friends' observations. We have had a valuable debate to flesh out precisely why, as a number of my hon. Friends have said, this is an important amendment.

Perhaps it was not fair of my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth to chide the House for having allowed to Bill to go this far without spotting the need for the amendment. I underline that my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives introduced the Bill as a private Member's Bill. He has prosecuted it vigorously with the support of Labour Members, who have been here, if not in number, then at least in spirit and who have not opposed the passage of the Bill. I am grateful to them for that. The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North mentioned the Donaldson report. I do not want to go down that track, because there are other amendments with which we should deal. As she knows, the Government remain committed to ensuring that the recommendations in Lord Donaldson's excellent report are fully aired and debated and, where necessary, brought into effect as urgently as possible.

On salvage tugs, Lord Donaldson's inquiry envisaged in the longer term a mixture of a few large salvage tugs and smaller tugs to administer first aid while a larger tug is on the way. The inquiry rightly acknowledged the need for negotiations with tug owners and other countries to establish what could be done before we decide on tug sectors. We intend to take those discussions forward and the inquiry also recognised that detailed negotiations on arrangements and funding would take time, but it identified Dover strait, the western approaches and north-west Scotland as the three areas most urgently in need.

10.45 am

We have asked the chief executive of the Coastguard Agency to carry out a study of the cost and benefits of providing the three tugs. That study should take about six months. The appropriateness and role of public funding, both in the short and long term, of the tugs needs careful consideration and we shall consider the matter in the context of the report's general recommendations on financing.

Ms Walley

In view of what the Minister has said, can we expect early Government legislation to implement the Donaldson report?

Mr. Norris

The hon. Lady knows our attitude to the Donaldson report. We have commended those people who prepared the report and, in particular, Lord Donaldson for an excellent piece of work which gives us a number of valuable insights. We have accepted some of the recommendations and agreed, as Lord Donaldson suggested would be appropriate, to investigate others as a matter of urgency. She will not cause me to move from that position this morning, as she is well aware.

The hon Lady asked whether the provision of the salvage tugs should be more widespread. She knows that the inquiry recognised that it was impractical to provide coverage of all areas by full-size salvage tugs. Not only would cost outweigh benefits, but skilled crews might become stale and unable to function in an emergency. The inquiry suggests the Dover strait and south-western approaches because the density of traffic means that a tug is most likely to be needed there. Most other areas have some sort of tug available. The only exception is north-west Scotland, where a third salvage tug is suggested.

The hon. Lady asked for an undertaking in relation to the contents of the excellent Deregulation and Contracting Out Bill, which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry currently has before the House. It is classic of the Labour party to assume that any attempt to reduce the burden of regulation on industry or business will lay to waste killing fields of danger and expose employees unnecessarily, solely in the pursuit of profit and putting safety last. That is, of course, a nonsensical approach to the sensible business of ensuring that regulations are always appropriate to the protections that any individual or organisation can reasonably expect.

Mr. Don Dixon (Jarrow)

Are the Government in favour of regulation?

Mr. Norris

I shall not be drawn on that, save to say that we believe that regulations should exist only where they are necessary for the protection of the public, as individuals or collectively, and where they are concerned with safety, honesty and probity. Any regulation that goes beyond that to any degree and imposes a burden on individuals or businesses which cannot be justified should not remain on the statute book for one moment longer.

I am sad to say that the Labour party is obsessed with the idea that the slightest reduction in the burden on industry or business will somehow simply allow the massive accretion of private profit at the expense of personal safety. That sort of attitude will ensure that it remains exactly where it is long after the next election, with or without the ministrations and leadership of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott).

The hon. Lady need not concern herself that the deregulation Bill will have the slightest impact on the terms of the convention. My goodness, I saw you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, about to direct my mind to the amendment, but I hope that you appreciate that I was answering a request from the hon. Lady. Methinks I was provoked yet again, not just by the hon. Lady but by the normally silent member of the usual channels mafia, the hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon) who is occupying his usual place on the Opposition Front Bench.

I do not wish to detain the House unnecessarily. We have had an excellent debate and I am grateful to my hon. Friends who participated. My hon. Friend the Member for Hallam reminds me that I may have overlooked mentioning my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere. All the contributions were excellent. My hon. Friend the Member for Sutton is an experienced enough lawyer to know that, although he made his debating point with force, my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham and others are clearly right that it is necessary for Parliament to have the right and ability to scrutinise proposed changes to obligations entered into by this country in conjunction with others. The amendment provides for that and I commend it to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

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