HC Deb 03 February 2004 vol 417 cc604-5
3. Mr. Edward Leigh(Con) (Gainsborough)

What steps have been taken to ensure that pollution offences may be prosecuted on the same terms wherever they occur within the UK pollution control zone, as recommended by the Public Accounts Committee in its second report of the Session 2002–03. [152273]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. David Jamieson)

We need to bring the statutory defences under the Merchant Shipping Act 1995 into line with those in the Merchant Shipping (Prevention of Oil Pollution) Regulations 1996. My Department has investigated the scope for achieving that through a regulatory reform order, but has established that it is not possible. We will therefore seek to amend the 1995 Act when a legislative opportunity is available.

Mr. Leigh

As the Minister knows, polluters seek to avoid their liabilities by resorting to the "pay to be paid" device in their insurance policies. The International Maritime Organisation has asked for those practices to be banned. Are the Government going to ban them; if not, why not?

Mr. Jamieson

We take pollution from ships around our coast very seriously in this country. The hon. Gentleman will know from the National Audit Office report of June 2002 that between 1997 and 2002 we reduced the amount of oil spilled in the UK pollution control zone by more than 90 per cent. He will also know from a letter sent to him by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency in January this year that we are making good progress in implementing not only the National Audit Office recommendations, but those of his own Committee.

Mr. Alistair Carmichael(LD) (Orkney and Shetland)

When the Minister revisits the legislation with a view to bringing forward amendments, will he seriously consider making such offences strict liability offences?

Mr. Jamieson

Yes, indeed. The hon. Gentleman will know that some of those offences can already attract very heavy fines—in fact, the heaviest fines that magistrates can impose for oil pollution. Certain areas around the Scottish coast, including the Shetlands, are particularly sensitive. We are mindful of the need to protect the coast—that is why, I am glad to say, the number of pollution incidents and the number of gallons of oil spilled have reduced very substantially over the past five years.

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