HL Deb 14 December 1954 vol 190 cc330-51

2.40 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, in moving the Second Reading of this Bill, I am fairly confident that I shall have the support of the whole House. I believe, further, that the Bill may be received in some parts of the country with something approaching enthusiasm. The problem which we are here facing is one of the scourges which arise as a by-product of the mechanisation of life which we now find necessary. The pollution of our waters has increased in parallel with the increased use of oil as fuel in ships and the increased transport of crude oil by sea for refining in the British Isles and North-West Europe in recent years. The increased use of oil, both by sea and by land, causes pollution primarily in two ways. First, certain ships take on sea water as ballast as a matter of routine. In due course, this ballast water has to be discharged somewhere, and, inevitably, it carries with it a good deal of oil mixed up with the water. Secondly, tankers, when they are carrying oil as cargo, have to clean their cargo tanks frequently, and in every case when they have discharged a cargo of crude oil they must clean them. These sludge and tank washings have to be disposed of somewhere, and for lack of better facilities they are sometimes—in fact, frequently—put into the sea. The results of this pollution are so serious that we cannot possibly regard them with indifference.

It has resulted in the spoiling of many of the amenities on parts of our coasts. I am given to understand that in some places it is often impossible to bathe, sunbathe, paddle, sit or even walk along the beaches without getting covered with a tarry substance. Nor does the nuisance end there, because this tarry substance is carried into houses and hotels, and causes great damage to carpets and furniture. But perhaps the most distressing result of oil pollution is the cruelty and suffering which it inflicts on sea birds, a very large number of which die in consequence of fouling by oil. There is also the fouling of boats, piers and quays; damage to fishing gear; contamination of shell fish beds and the possible effects on the plankton and other organisms on which fish feed.

What I feel may be inadequately appreciated is the astonishingly persistent quality of certain of these oils, particularly crude oil. Experiments have been carried out with oil discharged into the sea and with oil residues found on our beaches, and they have shown that these oils can last for a very long time and can be carried extremely long distances. If I may, I will give one example. Chemical examination of samples of tarry substances on our beaches indicates that they may well have lasted already upwards of two years. This clearly shows that the problem is rather a difficult one. The Faulkner Report, however, which your Lordships may have read, shows that this problem can be satisfactorily resolved. And the solution is a very practical one. Put in the simplest language, it means that no persistent oils should be discharged anywhere into the sea. To make that prohibition fully effec tive would, of course, require the co-operation of virtually all the maritime countries of the world, all the oil companies and all the harbour authorities. This, I hope, will come to pass in the not too distant future. So far as the United Kingdom is concerned, this Bill will enable all appropriate measures to be taken towards that end. In the meantime, we believe and hope that the lead which this country is giving may have far-reaching effects all over the world.

May I now shortly recapitulate the history of this matter. The problem emerged after the 1914–18 war, and we took action in 1922 when the Oil in Navigable Waters Act was passed; but we could not go very far. The Act prohibited the discharge of oil only within the territorial waters of this country. At that time no international action was taken. When, in 1926, an international conference was convened in Washington it was, unfortunately, impossible to reach any general agreement. However, I should say that from that year the shipowners of the United Kingdom and of a number of other leading maritime countries have voluntarily refrained from discharging oil within fifty miles of land. In 1934, as the result of representations of the United Kingdom Government, the problem was referred to a committee of experts under the League of Nations. But it did not prove possible to convene a conference to consider the draft convention prepared by that committee. As a result, with the exception of the voluntary agreement of 1926 which I have already mentioned, up to the post-war years no effective international action to mitigate the scourge had been taken.

With the considerable increase of pollution after the war, Her Majesty's Government decided upon three steps to deal with the problem. First, the Minister of Transport appointed a committee to review the known facts of the situation and to examine what practical steps could be taken to prevent pollution around the coasts of the United Kingdom. This committee consisted of representatives of shipowners, oil companies, dock and harbour authorities and the Government Departments concerned. I should like to express our gratitude to these gentlemen for the care and trouble with which they have prepared their interesting Report," "Prevention of Pollution of the Sea by Oil," commonly called the Faulkner Report, which was published in July, 1953, and which your Lordships will see on the Table. The committee concluded that the only complete and lasting solution to the problem was to avoid the discharge of persistent types of oil anywhere in the sea. Accordingly, the Government then took the second step, which was to convene a conference in London last April. It was attended by representatives of 42 countries, which together accounted for about 97 per cent. of the world's merchant shipping. This conference drew up a valuable convention, the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution of the Sea by Oil (Cmd. 9197), which your Lordships will also see on the Table. The conference also adopted a number of important resolutions, including one which recognised that the only entirely effective method known of preventing oil pollution is the complete avoidance of the discharge of persistent oils into the sea. They recommended that a further conference to review the matter should be convened within three years.

To-day we are taking the third step, the introduction of this Bill. The Bill does two things: first it deals with our domestic problem of protecting the coasts of the United Kingdom and, secondly, it will enable us to play our part in conforming to the requirements of the convention, or of any future convention. The 1954 Convention will come into operation when it has been accepted and ratified by ten countries, of which five must each have at least half a million gross tons of tanker tonnage. It has been signed, subject to acceptance (which I believe means much the same as ratification), by representatives of twenty countries, but we are the first to introduce legislation to give effect to it.

If we may leave aside for a moment the wider purposes of the convention, which will cover the world, may I explain the purpose of this Bill so far as the United Kingdom is concerned? As I have said, pollution arises from two sources: first, from the discharge from tankers, whether the water has been taken on as ballast or for cleaning out crude oil tanks; secondly, from the discharge of ballast water from fuel tanks, which is the normal practice in certain types of dry cargo ships. The immediate purpose of the Bill is to provide that oily water from these and other sources should not be discharged within the areas defined in the Schedule, which correspond to those laid down by the convention. Different areas are defined for tankers and dry cargo ships, and charts have been placed in the Library of your Lordships' House to enable your Lordships to see these areas more clearly. The secondary, and more important, purpose of the Bill is to encourage the provision of reception facilities in ports for oil residues and the provision of oily water separators in ships which use bunker fuel tanks for ballasting.

I now turn to the Bill itself. Clauses 1 and 2 should be read with the Schedule. They relate only to United Kingdom ships and areas outside United Kingdom territorial waters. They make it an offence to discharge oil of a persistent character—that is crude oil, fuel oil, lubricating oil and heavy diesel oil—inside areas set out in the Schedule. If I may refer for a moment to these maps, one deals with tankers and the other with non-tankers. In both cases this Bill deals with the shaded areas which your Lordships will see on the map. The Bill makes it an offence for any ship to discharge oil within 100 miles of the United Kingdom (or of what is its geographical expression, the British Isles), and, so far as tankers are concerned, within a further area which extends 1,000 miles into the Atlantic Ocean in the direction where the Gulf Stream sets towards the British Isles.

Provision is made in Clause 2 for the extension of the areas by orders made by the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation so far as may be necessary for the protection of United Kingdom coasts or to confirm with the provisions of a future convention. Your Lordships will observe that on both these maps there is in the middle of the North Sea what I may describe as a "hole." This is in accordance with the convention, but it does leave a considerable risk of pollution of United Kingdom coasts. I should therefore say that it is the intention to prohibit the discharge of oil from United Kingdom ships within this remaining area in the North Sea, subject, however, to some necessary exceptions to be defined in regulations, such as when a ship is proceeding to a port in the area where there are no adequate facilities for the reception of waste oil. It will also probably be desirable to extend the zone in the North Atlantic, for both tankers and dry cargo ships, to 40°W., which would increase the distance by some 300 or so miles, as recommended by the British Committee.

While Clauses 1 and 2 deal only with ships registered in the United Kingdom. Clause 3, which applies to the territorial waters of the United Kingdom, deals with all ships, whatever their size and whatever their nationality, and makes it an offence to discharge oil of any description into our territorial waters. It also applies to discharges from land. This clause is largely a re-enactment of the prohibitions in the 1922 Act, but it will apply to all ships, instead of excluding certain of the smaller types of ships, as does the Act of 1922. It may, however, be necessary to make certain exceptions—for example, in relation to small craft operating in harbours and estuaries which do not, as a rule, go outside territorial waters and may not be able to avoid pumping out small quantities of oil with their bilge water. These will be dealt with under the powers of Clause 15.

Clause 4 deals with certain cases in which the discharge of oil may be unavoidable and should not constitute an offence—for example, if oil is discharged for life-saving purposes. Under Clause 5 the Minister proposes to take power by regulation to require United Kingdom registered ships to be fitted with equipment or arrangements for avoiding oil pollution. It is the Minister's intention to make regulations requiring ships which use their bunker fuel tanks for ballasting to be fitted with oily water separators within a period of three years from the date on which the Bill becomes law.

Clause 6 deals with penalties. Under the 1922 Act there is a maximum fine of £100, and this is wholly inadequate. Under Clause 6 the fine for offences in relation to the discharge of oil into prohibited sea areas or United Kingdom territorial waters, or for failure to comply with requirements for fitting equipment in ships, may on summary conviction go up to £1,000. On conviction on indictment the fine will be at the discretion of the court. I think it is right that the courts should be able in a serious case to impose a heavy penalty. The seriousness of the offence may vary greatly, and one case by itself may cause widespread pollution. Moreover, there is a considerable temptation for a ship to avoid the expense of complying with the restrictions, and offences are difficult to detect. Clause 7 deals with the keeping of records on board ship, and is based on the convention and the Act of 1922.

Clause 8 deals with the provision of facilities in ports for the reception of oil residues from ships. It is largely an enabling clause conferring the necessary powers on dock and harbour authorities, but the Minister takes powers, by Clause 8 (5), to issue a direction to secure the provision by a harbour authority of any facilities necessary for dry cargo ships. In the case of tankers, the requirement to observe the prohibited areas will in practice make it necessary for reception facilities to be provided by the oil companies and ship repairers. These, in so far as they do not already exist, our own oil companies and ship repairing concerns have agreed to provide. Indeed, our oil companies have gone further. They have agreed to provide these facilities at oil-loading terminals abroad which are under their control, and to use their best endeavours with the companies with which they are associated to have them provided at terminals which are not under their direct control.

Clauses 9 to 13 are largely procedural. Clauses 9 and 10 deal with the reporting of certain information; Clause 11 with powers of inspection; Clauses 12 and 13 with prosecutions and enforcement of court proceedings. Clause 14 makes it possible to extend by Order in Council the requirements under the Bill to all ships besides United Kingdom ships voyaging to United Kingdom ports. In this way they can be required to fit the necessary equipment and to keep records laid down in the Bill while within United Kingdom territorial waters.

Clause 15 gives the Minister power to make exemptions. The necessity for this is that we have covered in this Bill all ships from the "Queen Mary" to a rowing boat, and there are bound to be cases in which particular requirements cannot be applied in particular classes of ships, as, for example, in relation to the small craft which I have already mentioned in connection with Clause 3. What we have done is to set the standard as high as possible, but to make it workable there will be cases where it will be proper to make certain exceptions. Under Clause 16 naval ships are excluded from the Bill, but my right honourable friend the First Lord of the Admiralty has undertaken to secure that, so far as practicable and subject to overriding operational needs, the requirements will be applied to naval ships by Admiralty instructions. I do not think I need specially refer to any of the remaining clauses. The 1922 Act is completely repealed, but it is re-enacted so far as is considered desirable in the Bill.

In conclusion, I should like, on behalf of my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation, to refer on this occasion to the willing co-operation which has been given by the United Kingdom shipping industry, the oil companies, dock and harbour authorities and others concerned in working out the solution of this problem and taking steps to remedy it. Shortly after the publication of the Faulkner Report, the shipowners' representative organisations recommended that all owners of United Kingdom registered ships, without waiting for legislation, should immediately give effect to those of the committee's recommendations which dealt with the prohibition and restriction of oily discharges. These voluntary measures remain in operation. Representatives of shipowners, oil companies, dock and harbour authorities and ship repairers were also represented in the United Kingdom delegation at the international conference last April and played a leading part. In this connection I might mention the noble Viscount, Lord Runciman of Doxford, who I regret cannot be here today. It is only just that full tribute should be paid to the lead which has been given by our shipping and oil companies, and our dock and harbour authorities and ship repairers, to those of other countries.

I would only repeat that we very much hope that this Bill will constitute an important stepping-stone in ridding the whole world of this scourge of a mechanical age, and that the lead which we are taking in this matter will rapidly be followed by all the maritime countries of the world, and, in particular., that the 1954 Convention may be brought into force at a very early date. Our civilisation gains many benefits by the use of special qualities of oil and its products, and by proceeding on the basis of this Bill it should prove possible to retain these benefits without suffering at the same time the disadvantage of indiscriminate pollution of the waters around our coasts. I beg to move that the Bill be read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Earl of Selkirk.)

3.0 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Earl who has moved the Second Reading of this Bill with his usual clarity and charm of manner may rest assured that, so far as noble Lords on this side of the House are concerned, it will receive a warm and ready welcome. The noble Earl commenced his remarks by emphasising the amentity aspects. As he said, oil pollution is one of the curses of our modern civilisation—one of many, I might say, where mechanical contrivances are concerned. So many of our amenities are being taken away or are slipping away that it is encouraging to know that Her Majesty's Government are at least going to try to preserve the joy of our coasts and of the navigable waters around our islands from pollution by oil.

As the noble Earl has said, this pollution has become very serious. The growth of oil-fired shipping since the war has been prodigious, and in no area more than in that part of the country where I spent many happy years of my life, Southampton Water. When one considers that the shipping using Southampton Water now is of about 18 million registered tons a year, and the amount of petroleum which is shipped into Southampton Water to-day is 11 million tons a year, one can see the necessity for a Bill such as this. One has to look only at the huge development, not only at Fawley in Southampton Water but at Thames Haven and all over the county, to appreciate the urgency of that need. I suppose it would be right to say that in twenty years' time the Fawley side of Southampton Water, with its gigantic power station and with the other refineries, will be a second Birkenhead. The noble Earl knows that in the past oil pollution has been troublesome right along that coast.

But, unfortunately, oil travels, aid travels very widely, and I think it is commendable that the Government have been able to go as far as they have. Many of us would halve liked them to go still further but, as the noble Earl has said, efforts to overcome this problem can be effective only with close international co-operation. I must confess that I was slightly disappointed to hear him say that out of forty-seven countries present at the drawing-up of the convention, only twenty have signed it up to date. I hope the noble Earl and those who have influence in these directions will try to persuade all countries to follow the very fine lead which British shipowners and harbour authorities have shown the world.

Before I go any further, may I echo the noble Earl's thanks to the Faulkner Committee, and pay tribute to the skill and efficiency which was displayed by its chairman. I feel sure that the noble Earl will agree with me that equal praise is due to Sir Gilmour Jenkins who so ably presided over the conference. It really does not fall within the scope of the Bill, but perhaps the noble Earl would not mind if I asked him one or two questions on points arising from the resolutions passed at the conference and which I do not think are covered in the Bill. I quite agree that the only real solution to this problem is the complete avoidance of oil discharge into the sea, and, of course, that is possible if we can get co-operation. That is earnestly stressed in the first resolution passed. It says: The only entirely effective method known of preventing oil pollution is the complete avoidance of the discharge of persistent oils into the sea. … I can only hope that the Government will go as far as they possibly can in pursuing this objective, because once we can achieve it, we shall have done a great service, not only for this country but for the world in general.

The second point I wish to raise is contained in Resolution 5, which says: That Governments should arrange for the preparation, publication and distribution of an explanatory manual. … I should like to ask the noble Earl whether Her Majesty's Government have that matter in hand. Resolution 7 says: That Governments should create national committees to keep the problem of oil pollution under review and recommend practical measures for its prevention, including the carrying out of any necessary research. Are those committees set up yet? If not, when do Her Majesty's Government anticipate that they will be? Also, will they come within the terms of Clause 11 of the Bill, which covers the question of reporting upon the progress made in the implementation of the Bill?

Now may I turn to the Bill itself? The crux of the Bill, I think, is in Clauses 5 and 8. Clause 5 empowers the Minister to make regulations requiring British ships registered in the United Kingdom to be fitted with equipment that will separate the oil and water either in their ballast tanks or in their bilges. Clause 8 covers the installation of this equipment in harbours. I would echo what the noble Earl has said. The oil companies, who have brought so much prosperity to various sides of our economic life, both at Fawley and at Thames Haven, are to be congratulated upon the spirit of co-operation that they have shown in building these gigantic oil installations in Southampton Water. I was told the other day that the Southampton Harbour Board had found it necessary to issue only four prosecutions in the last twelve months. When one considers the size of the discharge of crude oil into Fawley and of the bunkering of the 18 million tons of shipping, I think that speaks very well for the co-operation shown.

Subsection (3) of Clause 1 of the Bill gives the Minister power to make regulations providing for exceptions from the operation of subsection (1). I hope it is not the intention of Her Majesty's Government to make exceptions in addition to those that have been made in the convention. In other words, having taken the lead in this matter, I sincerely hope that Her Majesty's Government are not going to—if I may use the expression—wilt. I will not go into these questions in detail, because they are rather more Committee points than points to be raised on Second Reading, and I would here give the noble Earl notice that there will be Amendments upon the Committee stage. I think Clause 4 requires tightening up.

One of the weaknesses of this Bill and of so much of the legislation that comes to your Lordships' House now is that it is polluted—if I may use that word—by government by the Negative Resolution principle. I know that in some cases it is essential. Every power which the Minister seeks in this Bill, except one, to which I will come in a minute, is of that kind. There is only one case in this Bill where either House is asked positively to affirm its agreement with what the Minister wants to do. In many instances—and in some very important ones, as I shall point out in a minute or two—the Prayer routine has to be adopted. I know it is not always desirable to have Affirmative Resolutions, but perhaps the noble Earl will look at some of these matters to see whether the Affirmative Resolution procedure would not be more in keeping with the thoughts that have been expressed in your Lordships' House upon many occasions during these last two or three months.

Clause 6, which sets out penalties for offences under Clauses 1, 3 and 5, has as a proviso: Provided that an offence shall not by virtue of this section be punishable on summary conviction by a fine exceeding one thousand pounds. If the noble Earl will now look at Clause 7, subsection (5), he will see that for failing to keep a proper record, the penalty may be a fine of £200 "or imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months …" A suggestion which the noble Earl might consider is that for a breach of any of the provisions of Clause 1, which are the prohibitive provisions for discharging oil, the fine might be supplemented by a term of imprisonment. We have to look at it in this way: that £1,000 may be a very heavy fire for a small boat-owner, but is not a very heavy fine for a shipping company of considerable size; and we might be dealing with shipping companies other than those that fly the British flag.

The next point of substance that I come to concerns prosecutions, which are dealt with by Clause 12. The noble Earl has said that he is covering ships ranging from the "Queen Mary" to a rowing boat, and "navigable waters" include rivers and small waterways. I think I am right in saying that, under the 1922 Act, a river board could take proceedings, with or without (if my memory does not fail me) the permission of either the Ministry of Agriculture or the Board of Trade. Is such power expressly excluded by Clause 12, or does it mean that in future a river board, before it can take any action, will have to obtain permission of the Attorney-General, even in some of these small cases? Then, under Clause 14, as the noble Earl has said, by an Order in Council Her Majesty may extend the provisions of this Bill very widely. I want to ask the noble Earl whether the Affirmative Resolution procedure set out in Clause 19 covers the power of Her Majesty to widen the scope of this Bill to include ships which fly a foreign flag? That is the only time, so far as I can trace, where the Affirmative Resolution procedure is followed.

I should like also to ask the noble Earl a few questions upon Clause 16, "Application of Act to Crown." I do this with some hesitation because there are so many noble Lords in your Lordships' House who are learned in law, and I am not. Both the Faulkner Committee and the Convention, said that warships and ships controlled by the Admiralty should be included within the provisions of this Act in precisely the same way as merchant ships. The Faulkner Committee went so far as to say that they thought these ships could be covered under Admiralty regulations. The noble Earl has confirmed that, but that is not altogether in keeping with the resolution proposed by the conference, resolution No. 2. Is the noble Earl quite satisfied that people in this country are completely covered by his assurance, or the assurance given him by his right honourable friend the First Lord of the Admiralty?

I merely ask for information on this matter because one of the worst affected areas around our coasts is the eastern coast of the Isle of Wight. That may be because the big liners, and most of the shipping that come up Southampton Water, anchor in cowes Roads, or it may be because of the close proximity of Portsmouth Dockyard—I do not know. But I take it that, under the provisions of this Bill, as it applies to the ships of the Merchant Navy or to any ships other than those owned by the Admiralty or under charter by the Admiralty, proceedings can be taken to establish guilt; and that once some person—it may be a shipowner, a master or some such individual as that—has been found guilty, the ordinary citizen who has suffered loss or damage to property or anything like that will have a method of redress. Round the coasts of this country a considerable number of people have suffered grievous damage to their personal property, and also to their persons, from oil pollution. Does it mean that, because ships of the Crown, as expressed by the Admiralty, are not included in this Bill and, when the Bill becomes an Act, will not be subject to the same law as merchant ships, the Crown has complete immunity from giving the private individual redress?

Perhaps the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, will consider that point, because I think many of your Lordships may feel that the situation is not as it should be. That is the weakness of the Bill. Perhaps the noble Earl will be good enough to consider that point between now and the next stage. Alternatively, perhaps we could have consultations between this afternoon and the Committee stage, because there are one or two other Amendments that I wish to put down. I can tell the noble Earl at once that the Amendments are not at all of substance, but they might make the Bill a little less loose and a little more tidy. But this is a point of substance. There may be an easy answer to the question I have posed. I have heard of the very sad losses that people have sustained by reason of oil pollution on the beaches. As I say, there has been damage to their persons and to their clothing. I do not think the Government want to evade responsibility if it is a Crown ship that has caused the damage.

I think that is all I want to say on this Bill. I am not an ornithologist, so I shall not say anything about birds. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, is present; doubtless he will have something to say on that particular aspect, he being one of the great authorities upon this subject. May I end by welcoming the Bill, and expressing the thanks of noble Lords, I think I can say on all sides of the House, for the full and frank manner in which the noble Earl has presented it, and to wish it a speedy passage through your Lordships' House and on to the Statute Book.

3.23 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, has presented this Bill to the House with his accustomed lucidity and comprehensiveness, and I feel sure that it will receive unanimous support. He has made plain the dual purpose of the Bill—to protect the amenities of our coasts and to stop the atrocious cruelty that is inflicted, year after year, upon tens of thousands of birds who hover over the sea in search of food, dive through these great lakes of oil and have their feathers covered with it so that they cannot fly, and die a certain but lingering death from starvation. It has been clear for quite thirty years that a measure of this kind was needed. I have been one of those who, on one or two occasions, have joined in pressing this matter upon the attention of the Government. Action has been hindered by the fact that international consent was necessary; also by the fact that various private interests were concerned, and unanimity was difficult to obtain. The history of this measure has been a history of abortive conferences and abortive committees, and we may rejoice that now, at long last, a practical measure is presented with the unanimous support of the countries and the interests concerned.

Our civilisation, with its large urban communities, always has to contend against dangers from pollution. The very presence of these millions of people is liable to pollute the water that we drink and the air that we breathe, and now this world traffic over the sea also pollutes great areas of the surface of the oceans. But we find also that, when necessity requires, our civilisation is able to act as a whole. This conference has taken place with the co-operation of the United Nations, and in certain particulars it involves continued action by the United Nations. But such unity needs leadership, and this leadership has been forthcoming from the British Government. The conference was summoned in London, and the plans were laid before it by our own Government. I think that we may feel proud of this fact.

I do not propose to discuss any of the details of the Bill. The speech by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, will no doubt receive the careful attention that it deserves. I trust that the clauses of the Bill will prove to be what I may call "oil-tight," and that none of this oil will be able to seep through them. That will, perhaps, be discovered only by the working of the Bill in practice. For our own part, we in your Lordships' House may feel proud that we have been privileged to be the first Chamber to consider this international Statute—for such it will be—and we congratulate the Government on having introduced it. I am sure that your Lordships will give to the passage of the Bill cordial and unanimous support.

3.27 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to accord this Bill the enthusiastic support which the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, expected, and is justly entitled to expect. I should like, on behalf of many bodies with which I am connected, both in this country and abroad, to express the appreciation which is felt at the action of Her Majesty's Government in bringing forward this Bill at the earliest possible moment and, indeed, for introducing it in your Lordships' House, where its progress is unlikely to be impeded by other business. The evils at which the Bill is aimed are admitted, even officially, to be intolerable; and the remedies are shown to be clear and not difficult to apply, once the will, to apply is there. As the noble Earl has said, there is no need to discharge persistent oil into the sea at all, and the Bill, and the convention which it will enable Her Majesty's Government to ratify, are important steps towards the complete and only remedy, which is to keep the oil out of the sea altogether. It would be of no use to search about for some remote areas of ocean into which oil can be poured, because investigations have shown that it is bound to fetch up on someone's shore, wherever it may be discharged.

I shall not take up your Lordships' time in describing either the evils or the remedies. As regards birds, to which reference has been made, the destruction on the coasts of Cumberland and of Wales this autumn has been worse than ever before; and many hundreds of birds have been picked up which (to use the words of one reporter) were the worst oiled birds he had ever seen. Many of them were simply balls of oil and distinguishable only by examination of their beaks. As one who is not yet too old to bathe, or even to paddle, in the sea around our shores, I can only suggest that some of your Lordships should try it and then sit down to rest, as one does afterwards, and discover the result for yourselves. I am surprised that our watering places have been so acquiescent in this state of affairs for so long. As the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel has said, we should be proud to think that this country has led in this matter.

There is a co-ordinating Advisory Committee on Oil Pollution, formed in March, 1952, of which the noble Earl, Lord Ilchester, was a member and of which the chairman is a Member of the other House. That committee made representations which led to the appointment of the Faulkner Committee which produced so practicable, admirable and detailed a Report. When I was in Copenhagen two months ago a leading Danish naturalist presented me with a copy of the Report translated into Danish, and if the noble Earl is a master of that language and would like the book for reference, I should be glad to give it to him.

I will not go into any details of the procedure which has led up to the present position, but all the interests concerned owe a great debt of gratitude to Her Majesty's Government and to the late Minister of Transport who presided over the meeting held in London about a year ago, organised by the committee, and who showed a most sympathetic attitude. A debt is also owed to him for having convened in the spring of this year the international meeting which led to the convention. As the noble Earl has said, about twenty countries have already signed the convention subject to acceptance by their Governments, among them all the countries bordering on the North Sea and most, if not all, of those bordering on the Baltic. West Germany, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and Canada have signed, but there are some important countries which have not yet done so, among them the United States. Various countries no doubt felt they needed rather more time to consider all the implications of the convention before their Governments were formally committed; but if this country takes the lead and is the first to ratify, then ratification by many other countries will swiftly follow.

During my long connection with shipping I have always felt that in maritime matters this country should never hesitate to give a bold lead when principles and practices to which we attach importance are at stake. Undoubtedly many countries who are our neighbours are looking eagerly for action an our part so that their own Governments will then be all the more ready to take similar steps. It is true that the convention does not itself go as far as some of us would have wished, nor indeed as far as the British delegation would themselves have gone. I should like to join in the tribute which has been paid to-day to our own shipping and oil companies for their enlightened approach to this problem, which has surprised some of our friends from abroad. I regret that the noble Viscount, Lord Runciman of Doxford, is not here, but I am free to say that open admiration was expressed for the wise, strong and helpful lead he gave to the discussions on many occasions when foreign shipowners thought that their interests were being sacrificed. His interventions then were most timely and helpful, creating an impression among our foreign friends which it was gratifying to notice.

The main flaw from this country's viewpoint is that to which the noble Earl drew attention. It is one which is obvious to any of your Lordships who will look at the map in the library. It is this curiously-shaped area in the North Sea resulting from the restriction to a limit of fifty miles from the Norwegian coast, which still leaves a kind of sink in the North Sea into which oil may be poured. I cannot but think that on the next occasion when this matter is considered that flaw will disappear. Meanwhile, if I understood the noble Earl aright, I gather that British ships will not be allowed to use that sink or sump. That, in itself, is a most welcome additional move by Her Majesty's Government. From my own recent observations in the North Sea and discussions with some of our neighbours, it appears that they are already beginning to regret that they too readily acquiesced in that very limited provision of the convention itself.

As the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, has said, there will doubtless be points to raise on the Committee stage and there may be clarifications to be sought and assurances to be requested. I have one point which I feel it is right to mention at this stage. Nothing is said in Clause 8 about the installations of the oil companies. Harbour authorities in the United Kingdom are not required to provide facilities for tankers to discharge their residues, nor is the Minister empowered to require harbour authorities to do so. That, presumably, is because the Minister is satisfied that the equipment at oil installations in this country is already satisfactory. I would say nothing to suggest the contrary.

But what has been done at oil installations abroad and especially by companies other than our own? I believe it has been stated that tankers discharge into the sea about a quarter of a million tons of oil in a year, and one large tanker, washing out its tanks, may put overboard as much as eighty tons of oil on one occasion. Those figures show the magnitude of the mischief so long as the tanker position is not adequately controlled. If my information is correct, very little has yet been done towards the provision of reception facilities at loading terminals abroad, and unfortunately there are not very many of those terminals in which British companies have a controlling interest. Until those facilities have been provided the main source of pollution will continue. It will be generally agreed that the oil companies of the world are not impoverished and there ought to be no reluctance on their part to install whatever facilities are needed. Their leaders are, in general, men willing to take an enlightened view of large questions, and I hope vital progress may be made in this direction before long. Perhaps on the Committee stage the noble Earl will be able to give us some information on that position.

One would like to know that, even in our own harbours, facilities for the reception of separated oil residues are being provided. It would be a very great pity to reach a position where shipowners said it was unreasonable to require them to install separating apparatus because they could not discharge the separated residues when they had done so. I hope that on our own shores, where the Minister has power to take action in the event of reluctance or slowness to move, something has already been done and is being done, and that your Lordships' House will not be told that plans are still being considered. I should like again to thank Her Majesty's Government, on behalf of all the interests with which I am connected, for the thorough-going action which they have taken and the rapidity with which they have proceeded. I should like also to thank the noble Earl and the present Minister of Transport for having so generously fulfilled the hopes which were created by the latter's predecessor a few months ago.

3.40 p.m.


My Lords, may I thank your Lordships for the warm welcome which you have given to this Bill this afternoon? I would mention that there are, besides the small maps, four large Admiralty charts in the Royal Gallery by means of which the specific areas can be examined more carefully. I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, for all he has said, speaking as he does with great authority on the subject from two extremely different angles. I am grateful to him for his remarks. I can say to him that the oil companies have already indicated their willingness to make the necessary provision of reception facilities in this country so fair as oil loading terminals are concerned. With regard to dry cargo ships, in which separators will in fact he installed, reception facilities will be provided by the harbour authorities. As regards the "hole" in the North Sea, I entirely agree with what the noble Lord has said, and it is the intention of the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation to deal with that matter in due course.

The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, raised a number of substantial points, and if I deal rather briefly with some of them I hope he will not think me guilty of any discourtesy. I shall do so because they will be discussed at greater length in due course. He mentioned the Royal Navy. I think I can assure him that the Royal Navy has no intention of evading its responsibilities. I would remind him that the ships that are excluded here are of a very limited category, which does not, include chartered ships. They have to be both under the orders of, and in the service of, the Royal Navy. That is to say, if a Navy ship is loaned to someone else it is not excluded I have every reason to believe that the Royal Navy intends fully to observe both in spirit and in detail what the Bill lays down.


My Lords, will the noble Earl forgive my interrupting? Perhaps it is unfair for me to put this question to him now, and it may be that he would rather postpone his answer, but I should like to ask him whether the Navy are suable for damage done by oil pollution when the pollution is traced to one of the ships which the noble Earl has mentioned. As I have said, perhaps the noble Earl would prefer to answer at a later stage.


I think I would rather answer later. I should not like to risk giving an answer which might be wrong in law, and this is a point upon which I have not been advised. The noble Lord spoke about penalties. I do not know why he referred specifically to the summary penalty, which is £1,000. The penalty on indictment is unlimited. It is at the discretion of the court. Another one to which the noble Lord referred was that mentioned in Clause 7. The penalty there is limited to £200 or imprisonment, That, of course, is a specific penalty dealing with the falsification of records.


Yet a person can be imprisoned for it.


Yes, and that is for this reason; it is a personal case, a personal offence. Pollution we do not regard as a personal offence; it is apt to arise because of temptations concerned with cost. There may be a temptation for a company to evade the requirements and prohibitions of the Bill because they think they involve too much expense. You cannot, of course, send a company to prison, and in this sort of case I think the best way of dealing with the offenders is to have provision for a very large fine. Those are the general lines on which we have proceeded, and I think they are fairly sound. River boards can, of course, he authorised to prosecute under this Bill, as under the 1922 Act. The noble Lord mentioned a number of resolutions which were passed at the International Conference last April. Those resolutions are not part of the convention; they are strictly separate. The convention specifically dealt with later on, in Cmd. 9197. None the less, I can say that the explanatory memorandum is in draft and will be issued as soon as possible. A national committee has been set up, and I gather that it has already started work. I think those were the major points that the noble Lord mentioned. I can assure him that in this Bill we are carrying out fully our obligations under the convention.

Finally, I should like to thank the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, for his contribution to our discussion. His interventions are always welcome in these debates, speaking as he does with such full authority. I cordially agree with him that if we can, by progress in technology or through unity of leadership, meet and overcome these pollution problems at an urban level to begin with, we can probably solve them all in time. I welcome the reception which your Lordships have given to this Bill, and I hope that the lead which this country has given will be recognised throughout the maritime countries of the world. In that way I trust it will be found possible to achieve a complete and world-wide solution of the problem.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.