HC Deb 28 February 2003 vol 400 cc544-54

Order for Second Reading read.

1.47 pm
Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East)

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

The Bill principally concerns merchant vessels. It contains exclusions for naval vessels and Government ships. I was assisted in its preparation by the Secretary of State's representative Robin Middleton—of whom more later—and John Mairs of the Department of Transport, as well as their staff. I thank them all for their advice, and for their hard work in drafting the Bill.

I have always been fascinated by the sea. Although I now live inland and represent an inland constituency, I was born on the banks of the River Douglas, which flows into the Ribble and out to sea in an estuary between Southport and Lytham St. Anne's. I was once quite familiar with the Lancashire coastline, including the dangerous Ribble marshes. My secondary school education was in Southport, and I also attended the local technical college. My father's business interests often took him to Liverpool and he let me travel with him—usually by lorry—to the docks to pick up cattle food for a mill in our village, Tarleton, on the west Lancashire plain.

In those days, the Liverpool docks were extremely busy with the transatlantic trade. The largest ships in the world visited them—both merchant ships and cruise liners owned by famous companies such as Cunard and P&O. Liverpool had an overhead railway—long since demolished, sadly—which ran the full length of the docks. My father and I often took a return trip on the railways just to get a glimpse of those impressively large ships.

I have had few regrets in my life, but one is that I never learned to sail. Another is that I have never owned a boat, although one of the happiest times in my life was spent crewing a catamaran hired in Teignmouth along the French coast and around the Channel islands.

Even though nearly all my constituents are landlubbers, many of them—possibly all—are dependent on the sea in one way or another, so the Bill is as relevant to them as to any coastal constituent. Some of us use cruise ships; others cross the seas using ro-ro ferries, hovercraft or other means of marine transport. In any case, most of us are reliant on goods transported by merchant vessels. I am told that worldwide trade by sea has increased significantly and is still increasing. At the same time, fortunately, the number of incidents at sea is going down. Nevertheless there are still far too many accidents involving shipping, and many lives are still lost at sea.

When I was elected to Parliament in 1997, my attention was drawn to the existence of the all-party parliamentary MV Derbyshire group. Like the existing members of the group at that time, I was astonished by how long it had taken to get justice for those who had sailed on that ship, lost their lives and, in the case of the crew, even been accused of negligence; but that is another story, which we have placed on the record previously. Nevertheless, it is a sad fact that bulk carriers are still going down at the rate of one a month worldwide. Since the Derbyshire sank in 1980, 3,000 seafarers have lost their lives on bulk carriers alone. The MV Derbyshire group now concentrates on improvements in marine safety. That is why I have decided to take charge of this Bill, which I truly hope will have the Government's support and that of all the Opposition parties.

We are never far away from a major disaster at sea. The most recent incidents best known to us are the sinking of the Tricolor and the loss of the Prestige, noteworthy for the fact that the Spanish authorities refused to give the Prestige a place of refuge, which might have allowed most of its oil to be offloaded. Of course, pollution is a common consequence of sea disasters, and that is what the Bill is partly about: avoiding pollution and dealing with it when it occurs.

A national contingency plan for marine pollution from shipping and offshore installations exists. Command and control of the tasks associated with a major maritime incident involving pollution, both marine and terrestrial, is divided into four distinct theatres of operation: search and rescue, salvage, clean-up of the sea and clean-up of the shoreline.

Let me give the House some statistics, because no debate in this place is complete without them. Currently the Maritime and Coastguard Agency—MCA—receives more than 1,000 reports of pollution incidents a year. Between 6 October 1999 and 31 December 2002, the SOSREP was involved in a total of 262 incidents and was required to give directions in 30 of those. In 30 of those incidents that he was involved in, there was a spillage of oil greater than half a litre. The incidents are almost equally spread between summer and winter seasons. They involve all kinds of ships, most commonly general cargo vessels, 53 incidents; fishing vessels, 45 incidents; tankers, 34 incidents; and bulk carriers, 23 incidents. There were 65 engine failures, 52 groundings of vessels, 38 collisions and 25 fires amongst the incidents involving the SOSREP during that period.

In the 10 years from 1991 to 2001, there were 347 fires on vessels within the United Kingdom 12-mile limit. On 21 December 1997, for example, the Kukawa, a ro-ro cargo vessel, developed an engine room fire 25 miles north-west of Guernsey, which spread into the accommodation. The fire services of both Guernsey and Cornwall were involved. The ship was towed into Falmouth and the fire extinguished, an incident that lasted three days. This is the important point. A court ruling declared that the fire services could not recover their costs, which was a serious blow to offshore firefighting provision in the UK.

The Suffolk fire service's last offshore incident was extinguishing a fire in the engine room of the passenger ferry Norsea, off Norfolk on 2 September 2002. Firemen were airlifted to the ship to assist the crew. Funding problems have caused them to revoke their declared facility status today.

Public attention in the UK focused on the impact of major oil pollution in March 1967 when the tanker Torrey Canyon hit the Seven Stones rocks between the Scilly Isles and Land's End.

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield)

Sounds like Tory Canyon.

Dr. Iddon

I beg the House's pardon.

Michael Fabricant

Do not blame us.

Dr. Iddon

I am fixated on Tories. The pace of interest quickened with the 1993 Braer disaster in the Shetlands, which led to a report by Lord Donaldson that resulted in the strategic placement around our coast of the first Government emergency towing vessels. Today, those number four. Then came the Sea Empress disaster, as recently as 1996.

Between 1967 and 1996, a statutory basis for the Government's powers of intervention in such incidents was created. Those are enshrined in the Merchant Shipping Act 1995, which was amended by the Merchant Shipping and Maritime Security Act 1997. Following the Sea Empress incident at Milford Haven, Lord Donaldson conducted a review of salvage and intervention, and of their command and control. His report was published in March 1999, and one of its recommendations was the establishment of a Secretary of State's representative, or SOSREP, as the post has become known.

The holder of that post, Robin Middleton, is based at the MCA's headquarters in Southampton. The MCA came into being on 1 April 1998 as a result of the merger between the Marine Safety Agency and the Coastguard Agency. Lord Donaldson recommended that the

SOSREP must be a considerable, and, preferably, charismatic, personality". I can assure the House that Robin Middleton certainly is that. Although his office is based in the MCA's headquarters, he is independent of it and answerable directly to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport. Of course, the SOSREP works extremely closely with the MCA.

I emphasise that the SOSREP's intervention powers are regarded as ones to be used only in exceptional circumstances. Provided that the control of an incident at sea is going well, the SOSREP merely monitors that incident. Only in cases that appear to be getting out of hand will he take over control and command of the incident.

Although our coastal waters extend for 12 miles around the UK coastline, the UK's pollution zone—the zone of responsibility for dealing with marine pollution or even the threat of it—extends 200 miles seaward, save where it meets the pollution zone of another state. That happens in the English channel, the North sea and the Irish sea.

Since the post of SOSREP was established, two gaps have been identified in his powers, which the Bill is intended to rectify. Clause 1 would give the SOSREP powers to make directions when he takes over an incident, which he does not possess. The 1995 Act would be amended by the insertion of proposed new section 108A in part 4. The safety directions that clause 1 refers to are set out in schedule 1, which would become new schedule 3A to the Act.

One of the greatest difficulties for those who deal with such incidents is finding a place of refuge for a stricken vessel. Under section 137 of the 1995 Act, as amended, the SOSREP may give directions to the owner, master or pilot of a vessel, the salvor and the harbourmaster, or the harbour authority where the vessel is in waters that are regulated or managed by a harbour authority. However, in an incident, the SOSREP cannot issue a direction to the riparian owners and managers of facilities such as berths, wharves and jetties to require them to make their facilities available to help to deal with that incident.

My Bill would empower the SOSREP to commandeer such facilities, as and when they are required, to deal much more effectively with a stricken vessel. Let me illustrate that through an important real-life example. In July last year, a fully laden oil tanker was approaching a jetty to unload its cargo when it suffered an engine fault. The master did not want to shut down his engines at sea in case he could not restart them and lost control of the ship. For purely economic reasons, a leading oil company would not allow that tanker to berth at its jetty to offload the oil. That might have prevented other tankers berthing while the ship's engines were being repaired. Instead the ship was sent out to sea again in the eye of a gale. Clearly, that was an unsafe practice that could have had serious consequences. My Bill would give the SOSREP the powers to direct that such ships should be berthed in order to offload their cargoes of oil. Fortunately, the SOSREP in that case was able to issue a direction to the ship's master for him to re-enter fresh water in Milford Haven and a tug was placed on standby.

Lord Donaldson recommended in his report, on page 13, paragraph 29 and again on page 26, paragraph 2.9, that the Government be given the powers to require the aid of the riparian owners or managers of facilities, such as berths, wharfs and jetties, which may well be required to moor a stricken vessel whilst a potentially polluting cargo is discharged. Without going into too much detail, because the details are given in the explanatory notes, schedule 1 to the Bill, which will become schedule 3A to the 1995 Act and entitled "Safety directions", details the circumstances under which those powers would be activated and enforced. The ships to which the schedule applies are detailed too, and allowances are contained in the Bill for the Government to pay compensation as and when required to do so, for interruption of business when a facility is put out of commercial use for some time.

Bob Spink (Castle Point)

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman. He has recognised expertise in this area. Samuel Plimsoll, a former Member of the House, would be proud of him. I am here to support the hon. Gentleman. Does he have any estimate of the number of times that the SOSREP might be called on to use those powers in the Bill?

Dr. Iddon

I am told by those who know better than me that private facilities would be commandeered—I think that that is what the hon. Gentleman is referring to—on very few occasions. I do not think anyone could put an actual number on it.

The circumstances under which costs can be recovered through the ship's owners are detailed in the schedule. Various definitions that apply to the Bill are contained therein. Fines for non-compliance with a SOSREP's directions are also identified. Disputes between aggrieved parties will lie with the admiralty jurisdiction of the High Court and Court of Session.

Many disasters at sea involve a vessel on fire. Clause 2 allows an important amendment to section 3 of the Fire Services Act 1947, which is concerned with the supplementary powers of fire authorities. At the moment, a fire service's legal authority ends at the low water mark of a coastal fire service. Because of that, there have been problems recently. It has been extremely difficult or even impossible for a coastal fire service to recover its costs for fighting a fire on board a ship in an estuary, a harbour or out at sea.

Coastal fire services have added burdens in that their personnel have to be highly trained to deal with ship fires. Obviously, that requires special skills and equipment and can be even more dangerous than fighting a terrestrial fire. Because of the difficulties that I have outlined, the number of coastal fire services willing to train personnel to deal with those incidents is declining. My Bill is intended to halt or even to reverse that decline by making it far easier for those services to recover their costs outside the borders of their current legal authority. At a recent meeting of the offshore firefighting working group of the Department for Transport, it was reported that only 10 fire brigades are still prepared to consider providing offshore firefighting services. That is very serious.

Subsection (2) of clause 2 amends section 3(1)(e) of the 1947 Act to put it beyond doubt that a fire authority may use its brigade for purposes other than firefighting in its area, in the area of another fire authority or at sea especially. Subsection (3) amends that section to include a provision that gives fire authorities in England and Wales and in the Scilly Isles power to recover costs they incur in fighting fires at sea outside any fire authority area. A fire at sea could be beyond territorial limits, perhaps on a ship or an offshore installation such as an oil rig or pontoon.

Clause 3 refers to schedules 2 and 3, which cover the minor and consequential amendments to the Dangerous Vessels Act 1985, the Merchant Shipping Act 1995 and the Merchant Shipping and Maritime Security Act 1997 that will follow should the Bill be enacted.

Clause 4 covers commencement of the Act and clause 5 its extent; clause 6 gives its short title.

To summarise, the Bill proposes to confer on the Secretary of State for Transport powers to give directions to the owners of certain facilities used by ships, such as berths, wharves, jetties and so on, to make those facilities available to reduce or prevent pollution and safety hazards caused by ships, and to allow fire authorities to make a charge for firefighting services carried out at sea outside the area of every fire authority.

I hope that I have convinced right hon. and hon. Members of the extreme need for the legislation, and I hope that the House will agree to give my Bill a Second Reading. I commend it to the House.

2.6 pm

Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) both on introducing the Bill and on the lucid way in which he expanded on a complicated piece of legislation; I felt much better educated by the end of his speech.

I apologise in advance to the hon. Gentleman and the Minister for having to slip out slightly before the end, because at 3.30 pm I have to be back to meet the owner of a sex club involving what is described as a "group of housemothers". As I opposed the installation of that club in the middle of Twickenham, those people are visiting me to persuade me to be less puritanical—and I hope that the House will agree that that is a suitable reason for my catching my train on time.

As the hon. Gentleman spoke, I began to appreciate the full significance and importance of what he was saying. In an earlier incarnation, I understood the importance of this subject because I worked in an oil company before becoming an MP, and my time there was framed by two major disasters. One of those was the Exxon Valdez, which not only did enormous damage to the coast of Alaska and its wildlife but virtually killed off, in terms of capitalisation, what at the time was the world's largest company—Exxon, which almost sank as a result of the disaster. Shortly before I left the company there was the Piper Alpha disaster, and the terrible loss of life associated with that.

Both those events were reminders of the enormous capacity for damage and loss of life as a result of maritime accidents and the importance of dealing with such matters in a preventive way. One of the key points that emerged from the presentation by the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East was the way in which the authorities have always reacted to disasters. It was in the aftermath of the Braer disaster, and also of the Piper Alpha disaster, that new regulations and procedures were introduced. It was entirely proper to react in that way, but the lesson to learn is that it is better to deal with such problems in anticipation than in retrospect. The hon. Gentleman's Bill is therefore helpful, in that it provides a framework for dealing with such possibilities before they happen rather than after.

I picked up from the hon. Gentleman's speech the fact that the Bill will make three fairly substantial contributions to the law. First, by clearing away some bureaucratic legislative obstacles, it will help to allow a rapid reaction to disasters. A point that he made in the context of the recent disaster off the coasts of France and Spain is that speed is essential: hours, let alone days, are crucial. Everything possible should be done to ensure that there will be no territorial arbitration and no boundary disputes, so that problems can be dealt with rapidly. If the Bill helps in that respect, it will be admirable.

The second point that the hon. Gentleman made is important too. He reminded us that the existing framework of fire legislation is somewhat restrictive and archaic. Several people, including the Government Whip on duty today, the hon. Member for Poplar and Canning Town (Jim Fitzpatrick), have campaigned to have the fire service regulations updated, because they are restrictive and narrow and prevent the fire service from reacting with the flexibility and speed that would be desirable. As the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East correctly explained, there are difficulties with the extra-territorial duties of highly specialised firefighting services. Those are not covered by existing legislation and it is appropriate that we should deal with them.

The Bill makes a third valuable contribution by addressing the issue of funding. We know that fire services are severely stretched financially for a variety of reasons, including pensions. Anything that they are not required to do in a narrow mandatory way will tend to be passed up. I was struck by the information that only 12 fire services can cope with offshore disasters. The principle of fire services recouping costs needs to be treated with care. A few weeks ago, I saw the film "Gangs of New York". It was a reminder of how the fire service used to be funded in the free-for-all days of the 19th century, when competing fire services would turn up and put out the fire depending on whether a suitable amount of cash was available. We do not want to return to those purely market principles of dealing with fires. None the less, the principle of recoupment in limited circumstances, especially if they involve a fire outside territorial waters, is sensible and prudent. It would ensure that fire services are properly reimbursed. There are admirable reasons for pursuing the Bill. I give it my full support and hope that it makes progress.

2.11 pm
Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) on introducing the Bill. Just over a year ago, I was lucky enough to introduce a private Member's Bill which also dealt with marine issues. Sadly, the Marine Wildlife Conservation Bill foundered on the rocks in another place. I wish the hon. Gentleman better luck.

Conservative Members believe that the Government must do everything possible to protect our environment from pollution damage. Some of the busiest shipping lanes in the world lie close to the British coast and it is imperative that the necessary contingency plans for dealing with marine incidents are in place. That is why we broadly welcome the provisions.

I see from the front page of the excellent explanatory notes accompanying the Bill that they were provided by the Department for Transport with the consent of the promoting Member. I infer from that that the Government not only broadly welcome the Bill, but positively support it. If that is the case, why are the provisions in the form of a private Member's Bill rather than Government legislation? The Minister and I are serving on the Railways and Transport Safety Bill. Although we would have been denied the excellent speech by the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East, the provisions could have been included in that. The same was true of provisions in the recent Aviation (Offences) Bill. Although I do not want to carp too much on that, we should remember the devastation that was caused late last year by the sinking of the Prestige. If the Bill falters on the reef elsewhere, I hope that the Government will consider introducing the proposals in Government time.

Clause 2 would allow fire authorities to charge for firefighting services at sea outside the area of every fire authority. A major research project, the "Sea of Change", was launched last month to review the response by UK fire brigades to incidents at sea. The primary aim of that project team is to research and submit recommendations to the project board, which will co-ordinate the implementation of a local authority fire brigade's integrated response to firefighting, chemical incidents and rescue at sea. The project has been acknowledged by the United Nations International Maritime Organisation, and expressions of interest in it and its outcomes have been received from Canada, Sweden and Germany. I mention this simply to point out that extensive and thorough work is now being undertaken on the role of fire brigades in marine incidents. Perhaps it would have been slightly more sensible to wait for the project's findings to become a little clearer, so that we could benefit from that research in considering legislative provision.

Figures show that the number of recorded oil tanker accidents off the UK coast has risen from 17 in 1992 to 22 in 1999. Those are the incidents that capture the headlines and the public imagination, but it is worth bearing it in mind that it is operational pollution—day-to-day operational incidents or illegal discharges—that accounts for more than 73 per cent. of incidents. Most of those day-to-day incidents occur in harbour and estuarine areas, most of which are environmentally extremely sensitive.

Shona McIsaac (Cleethorpes)

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's mentioning that point. My constituency has large oil refineries, and oil tankers offload into the pipeline, but the adjacent Humber estuary also contains areas of special scientific interest. Many local residents fear the potential for accidents, so I welcome the Bill.

Mr. Randall

I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention. I know that she takes a great interest in this issue; indeed, I seem to remember her speaking forcefully on behalf of seals.

In the aftermath of major incidents such as the Braer in 1993 and the Sea Empress in 1996, there are always loud and distinct calls for action. However, it is important to remember that, alongside the more major incidents, minor ones such as those that the hon. Lady referred to occur each and every day. Given that 90 per cent. of our overseas trade and 7 per cent. of our internal trade is carried by sea, a huge number of ships ply our waters. That gives rise to the potential for a disaster, and we must be prepared for that.

As was said, the Bill makes provision to confer powers on the Secretary of State to give direction to a person in charge of land next to, or accessible from, UK waters. That is a worthwhile provision, but we should take account of the problem of pollution once it reaches the coast. A key recommendation of the Donaldson inquiry into the Braer disaster, and of the inquiry into the Sea Empress, was for local authorities to have a statutory duty to plan for and undertake shoreline clean-ups following marine pollution incidents.

That was mentioned in the National Audit Office report that was published at the end of last year. It states that the Government

should consider the case for taking powers to require all coastal local authorities to have up to date oil spill contingency plans consistent with the National Contingency Plans, so that the United Kingdom as a whole is properly prepared to deal with maritime pollution incidents in compliance with international conventions. Perhaps I am getting a little old and cynical, but the reason why there is no statutory duty on local authorities to plan for, and to undertake, shoreline clean-ups might be because the Government would have to fund the additional responsibility.

Raising this issue enables me to highlight current general deficiencies in the resourcing provided for local authority emergency planners, who are often the unseen saviours in the event of a major incident such as an oil spillage on our coastline. They have been short-changed in recent years. They face growing responsibilities, yet they have received no corresponding growth in budget or in recognition.

Accidents are a product of human fallibility and error. They cannot be subject to absolute prediction or guaranteed prevention. However, measures can be taken to limit the likelihood of occurrence and to mitigate the degrading environmental consequences. Preventive action is the only option for a disease that has no cure. It is all very well for a national authority to look outwards, beyond its frontiers, to international agreements, but such agreements will count for little unless local authorities are able to act effectively.

The marine ecosystem is a very precious part of our environment; for too long, it has been the Cinderella part of the environment. If a Second Reading is obtained, we will wish this Bill well in its later stages. If it goes to Committee, we will be able to consider its more detailed parts. I hope that it will not founder and that, in time, the Bill will become an Act. If not, I hope that the Government will find sufficient time to introduce legislation, because legislation is needed.


The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. David Jamieson): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) on securing the slot for this Bill and on the way in which he presented his case. His arguments were well informed and clearly set out—although I would not have expected anything else from him. I noted his long-standing interest in these matters, so it must have given him considerable pleasure to introduce such legislation in the House.

The Government take safety at sea very seriously and we welcome the proposals in this Bill. Any fire is a frightening experience, but a fire on a ship or installation causes unique problems. The fire can be many miles from shore, a ship can be carrying toxic or explosive cargo, and even the act of fighting the fire can cause a ship to lose buoyancy if hoses are used.

Ships' crews are trained in the basics of firefighting. However, nothing can replace the benefits of expertise and specialised equipment that professional firefighters can bring to an emergency. The proposals encourage fire authorities to continue to provide their expert and lifesaving services, and I welcome that.

The conferring of powers on the Secretary of State to give directions has been proposed. We saw all too plainly, with the sinking of the oil tanker Prestige off the coast of Spain, the severe damage that can occur when such a vessel gets into difficulty. That incident has caused enormous devastation to the coasts of Spain and France; it is likely that its effects will be felt long into the future. It can be vital for a stricken ship to have access to the kind of facilities that are available on wharves and jetties, where remedial work can take place. The Secretary of State should be given the power to issue directions to the owners of such facilities.

The hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) asked how often such interventions would take place. I hope that the need for them would be infrequent. Nevertheless, an incident may be extremely serious and intervention may prevent an enormous amount of pollution from coming on to our shores.

Michael Fabricant

Such proposals risk breaching article 1 of protocol 1 of the European convention on human rights. Has the Minister's Department considered that?

Mr. Jamieson

I assure the hon. Gentleman that, for all Bills that come before the House, that issue is considered. The promoter of the Bill will have to consider it as well. The Bill consolidates all the existing provisions to issue directions in a single document, and that, too, is welcome.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East reminded us, the United Kingdom has suffered three of the world's largest recorded oil spills: the Torrey Canyon—his pronunciation was correct. [Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) laughs, but he was not in the Chamber earlier when the jokes were being made. Opposition Members were making the jokes, not Labour Members, although when we think about crashing and wreckage, the Tory party comes to mind at the moment.

The Torrey Canyon spillage took place in 1967, with the Braer in 1993 and the Sea Empress in 1996. Indeed, the Sea Empress incident led to Lord Donaldson's recommendation in his "Review of Salvage and Intervention and their Command and Control", published in 1999. In at least one case, permission for the use of facilities was refused and the Bill would make good that deficiency, as my hon. Friend pointed out in his opening contribution. We have learned lessons from those major oil pollution incidents and now make it a high priority to reduce the risk of oil spills and to minimise the impact of any spill that occurs.

My hon. Friend congratulated Department for Transport officials for their work in assisting him. I am pleased that we could offer him that facility for such a worthy measure. I, too, have taken a private Member's Bill on a marine-related matter through the House. Indeed, I was ably assisted by the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst, who is now shadow Leader of the House, so it has been interesting to observe his position on such matters during the past few years. Sometimes, the passage of private Members' Bills can be precarious; they rely on mutual support from both sides of the House. I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East that we shall give him every assistance in getting the Bill through.

The hon. Member for Castle Point, who is unfortunately no longer in his place, made some good points about the powers of the SOSREP to instruct ports to take ships in, although such a facility would be used only rarely.

I, too, congratulate our SOSREP, Robin Middleton. He is astonishingly able and extremely well thought of in the marine world. The difference between the approach taken in the United Kingdom and that taken in most other countries is that our representative is independent of the political process. Although he is ultimately responsible to the Secretary of State, he can act independently.

Questions were asked about the amount of goods that travel by sea around our coast, or to and from the country. I am informed that more than 96 per cent. of the weight of goods going to and from this country are transported by sea. That point is often not generally understood by the public. Such transportation is usually quiet and safe, but when a disaster happens it has an enormous impact.

I hope that the hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable) has managed to see the sex shop owner. At one stage, I felt that he was at risk of giving us too much information. None the less, he raised several points about the inadequacy of current legislation and I thank him for his support.

The hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) asked why the provisions could not have been included in another Bill, although the Opposition are always complaining about the size of Bills. The matter was originally going to be dealt with in the Railways and Transport Safety Bill, but we have not yet found parliamentary time for that, so we are happy to support this measure.

I give the Bill my full support and I hope that it receives the full support of the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to Standing Order No. 63 (Committal of Bills).