HL Deb 06 April 1967 vol 281 cc1105-58

4.41 p.m.

LORD TEYNHAM rose to call attention to the pollution of our coasts by oil and to the International Convention for the prevention of pollution of the sea by oil; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, oil pollution of our beaches is one of the most devastating calamities that can occur to our island shores. It has been building up for many years, ever since tankers have been transporting crude oil to the various refineries around our coasts. The whole matter has, of course, been highlighted by the stranding of the "Torrey Canyon" on the Seven Stones Reef near the Scilly Isles, perhaps one of the best marked navigational areas in the British Isles. I should like to congratulate Her Majesty's Government on the immediate and energetic steps which they have taken to disperse the oil, with not only the invaluable aid of the Royal Navy but also with the help of an armada of small ships—almost a Dunkirk effort. I am sure that we in this House would like to send to them our thanks and best wishes for the great work which they have done.

I am certainly not one of those who consider that steps should have been taken to destroy the "Torrey Canyon" before the last hope of salvage had disappeared. Unfortunately, a great deal is being said and written about this whole affair by many people who have little knowledge of the sea and maritime law. I must say that I was rather astonished to read the leader of a well-known and respected newspaper advocating illegal action and the destruction of the ship and its cargo by fire without waiting to see whether salvage could be effected. Apart from contemplating such an illegal act, perhaps the leader-writer had forgotten that some £4 million of the insurance was placed on the British market. Such action could have done nothing but harm to the possible strengthening of international co-operation in this matter.

It is a pity that the Prime Minister found it necessary to mar the good work he has done by referring to "flags of convenience", something which has nothing whatever to do with the matter and is used almost entirely for taxation purposes. Incidentally, British shipowners are prevented under the Merchant Shipping Act 1894 from registering their ships outside the Commonwealth. British owners cannot fly flags of convenience; it just cannot be done. The Prime Minister suggested that by using flags of convenience it was possible to economise in the cost of oil imports or perhaps increase oil profits. On the contrary, the Liberian fleet is modern and built to a high standard, and the observance of international safety standards has been delegated by Liberia to Lloyd's Register. In fact, the "Torrey Canyon" was classed 100 Al with Lloyds. Flags of convenience ships are almost entirely manned by crews from traditional maritime countries, and I would say that there is no general evidence at all of any undermanning, either in numbers of crews or in their quality. In fact the master of the "Torrey Canyon" was regarded by the charterers as being highly experienced. Furthermore, the rate for the voyage was the market rate, and therefore there is no question of this being a cut-rate charter as has been suggested in some quarters.

Before dealing with the wider aspects of oil pollution I should like to refer for a few minutes to the organisation being set up in the Solent and Isle of Wight area to combat the menace of the oil which may arrive in this area from the "Torrey Canyon". I understand that a Junior Minister has set up an organisation in Portsmouth Harbour, but this has not yet been made known fully to the public locally. I suggest that it is urgently necessary that technical information should be made available to all harbour authorities and all concerned as to the best method to deal effectively with the menace in the Solent and Isle of Wight areas. In cases where booms are not being provided by the Navy—and I know that they are providing some—the smaller harbours and estuaries will also have to be protected, but it is not yet known what form the protection will take and where the materials should be obtained. Furthermore, what it is very important to know is the best means to be employed to remove and dispose of the oil when it has been collected together by the booms.

I suggest that it is very important that this information should be imparted to all concerned, including the general public. The Solent Protection Society, of which I am a member, is doing a great deal to assist in this matter, and I feel sure that the Minister will be able to count on the help of a large number of volunteers once the need is known and the magnitude of the problem put squarely before them.

I am sure that it would be a great mistake for holiday-makers to cancel their bookings. In the past, oil pollution of our beaches has been cleared before the season commences, in many areas daily, by shovelling it up, bulldozing it and carrying it away in lorries. No doubt this can be done again in addition to the other steps which are now being taken.

I should like now to deal in a more general way with the question of oil pollution. From time to time reports are received that large quantities of oil have been deposited on certain beaches. Holiday-makers have their clothes ruined and the beaches become intolerable for bathing and recreation. Many of your Lordships have no doubt seen the heart rending pictures of dead and dying seabirds, with their plumage saturated with oil. Last, but not least, the boating and yachting fraternity, which number many thousands from all classes, have the hulls of their boats covered with slimy black oil and there is ruination of their paint-work.

Perhaps it would not be out of place to draw your Lordships' attention to the various sources from which oil pollution comes. Briefly, it comes from tankers washing out their oil tanks and from oil-burning ships washing out their bunkers, and also from engine room bilges. There is also accidental spillage from oil refineries and other installations, but what is more serious is the release of oil from slowly disintegrating wrecks, and last, but not least, through collisions which occur from time to time. By far the largest cause of oil pollution is from oil tankers washing out their tanks with sea-water at sea. This must be prohibited at all costs.

The financial implications for local authorities are also very great. I under stand that only recently Chichester Rural District Council was faced with a bill of £10,000 to clear some 11 miles of beach of oil pollution. This is a very heavy, unexpected expenditure for any local authority, and I should like to make one or two suggestions about finance a little later.

The control of oil pollution is, of course, an international problem. I believe that the first steps to deal with the oil menace from shipping was taken at the 1954 International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution of the Sea by Oil. I think I am right in saying that the discharge of oil was prohibited within 50 miles of the coast line in an area extending from the coast of North-West Europe into the mid-Atlantic, and this was agreed upon by 30 nations. Then, in 1962, the limit was extended to 100 miles, and the Convention also imposed a world-wide prohibition on the discharge of oil from ships of 20,000 MSS tons and over built after this amendment came into force. Governments which accepted this prohibition had to undertake to provide facilities to receive waste oil at loading terminals and at repair ports. I believe that up to date only 17 nations have accepted this amendment, and I think that is very disappointing. I hope that the Minister who is to reply for Her Majesty's Government can tell us what steps are being taken to bring other nations into line and what is the position at the present time.

There are, of course, many other organisations concerned with oil pollution. There is the Inter-Governmental Marine Consultative Organisation, known shortly as I.M.C.O., which I believe set up a sub-committee in 1964 to examine the matter on a technical basis. Also the great oil companies have not been backward in trying to find a technical solution. I believe it is Shell who have been experimenting with the "load on top" system, as it is called, which separates the waste oil from the washing out water when the oil tanks of a tanker are cleaned. The Board of Trade have also been active in trying to bring home to all concerned their responsibilities concerning oil discharge at sea. Many other bodies are working on various aspects of the problem. I might also mention the Institute of Petroleum, the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, and the Solent Protection Society.

I believe that about 80 per cent. of the world's crude oil is transported by ships owned or time-chartered by the great oil companies, which can of course to some extent be controlled, and I think that they are willing to co-operate. On the other hand, it must be remembered that there are some 600 independent tanker owners—not tankers, but tanker owners—whose co-operation is essential before oil dumping can be effectively controlled. I hope that Her Majesty's Government will now make a determined effort to get agreement among the many nations, and give a lead in this direction. Year by year the oil pollution menace is increasing, and I suggest that we must make every effort to get co-operation from all concerned.

I should like to refer again for a few minutes to the financial question. It does not seem right to me that local authorities should have to bear the whole burden of repairing the damage to their beaches, and I suggest that it should become a national responsibility. I have seen in the Press that Her Majesty's Government have indicated that they propose to grant up to 75 per cent. of the costs incurred by the wreck of the "Torrey Canyon", and perhaps Her Majesty's Government would like to enlarge a little on that point to-night.

I suggest that there are several things which might be done in the future. Would it not he possible to have a number of specially-fitted decontamination vessels, which could be available at short notice? It might go a long way to reduce the cost of beach clearance if the oil could be dispersed before it reached the beaches. I suggest, also in the long term, that a disaster fund might be established by Her Majesty's Government which could deal with matters not only concerning oil pollution in a big way, but also cover other disasters such as Aberfan. I believe that France has established a new Marine Research and Training Centre to prepare captains and pilots for the handling and navigation of the very large tankers, and it may well be that we should do the same.

In passing, it is interesting to note that the maximum permissible draught in the Straits of Dover is between 75 and 80 ft., which would rule out its use by the very large tankers now under construction. A 300,000 ton tanker, of which I believe there are six now building, when fully loaded would have a draught of approximately 75 ft., but of course the danger to our Atlantic coastline would still exist. I know that the international situation for the control of oil pollution is far from satisfactory and difficult to handle, but I hope that Her Majesty's Government will give a lead in this direction and make a determined effort to bring about a world-wide solution. I beg to move for Papers.

4.55 p.m.


My Lords, I am very grateful, and I am sure that the House is also grateful, to the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, for the clear, forthright and non-partisan way—which I hope we shall follow throughout the debate—in which he raised this highly important subject. It may be for the convenience of your Lordships if I do my best to give a general picture with regard to oil pollution and its control and international Conventions, and make comparatively few comments at this stage on the "Torrey Canyon". However, I shall make some reference to it, and perhaps at a later stage I shall be able to deal with particular points which any of your Lordships wish to raise.

Any debate on the subject of pollution of our coasts by oil would be a worthwhile exercise at any time, and the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, who like myself has been actively interested in this subject and in the efforts made to preserve the environment from inadvertent destruction, is bound to welcome this debate. Of course, it is very relevant because it is now taking place in the light of the very nearly disastrous experience—indeed, it was a disaster although it might have been an even greater one—as a result of the grounding of the "Torrey Canyon" on the Seven Stones rocks on March 18.

I should like to set the scene, because I think we are interested in this whole proposition, and this is a matter of great importance to this country, since for its size the United Kingdom has a very lengthy coastline. Indeed, one of our greatest national assets is our coastline where so many millions of our fellow countrymen go for relaxation and recreation. There are great natural beauties, and everybody, of course, has a great patriotism about his particular part of the country. These amenities, again, are greatly enhanced by the wild life which has suffered so grievously, particularly the birds, in this recent disaster.

At the same time, we must bear in mind that we live in a highly industrialised and highly mechanised society, and this situation requires an ever-increasing flow of oil and its many by-products. We have been fortunate in having vast quantities of coal, although the coal itself has also contributed to the pollution of our countryside, and it has certainly contributed greatly to our national eminence in the industrial field. But so far, notwithstanding the findings of gas in the North Sea, very little of the oil we use in this country is derived from indigenous sources, and the huge quantities of oil that we need have to be brought from the producing countries across the sea. As the noble Lord pointed out, this transportation involves at present certain processes by which, in some circumstances, an amount of oil may be discharged into the sea. Also, of course, collisions and other accidents and the many wrecks around our coast have contributed and poured large quantities of oil into the sea.

It is perhaps worth pointing out that the problem of pollution arises mainly (and I think the noble Lord made this point) from what are known as the persistent oils. These are chiefly crude oil, fuel oil, heavy diesel oil and lubrica ting oil, which do not disperse or evaporate of their own accord, although in time, of course, they are usually dispersed by the action of bacteria, by microbiological action. It is worth remembering that until a year or two ago, until the development (and I shall have something more to say on this) of the "load on top" basis, tankers were themselves putting a figure of about one and a half million tons of oil a year into the sea. I speak from recollection, but I think that was the figure. But, of course, this is not necessarily of persistent damage.

I have already mentioned the microbiological action, and your Lordships may be interested to know that ultimately the oil is disposed of. It is degraded by a series of oxidative microbial processes. In fact, the presence of micro-organisms in oil is often responsible for breakdown and subsequent lubrication failure, and in all cases the oil is finally oxidised to carbon dioxide and water. Your Lordships may be interested to know of some recent experiments. When tested on a laboratory scale, the rate of oxidation of oil on the surface of water by a mixed population of micro-organisms can be as high as the equivalent of 2.5 tons per square mile of surface. Of course, higher rates can be obtained with selected strains of micro-organisms, but we are in no position yet to treat the sea in this way. But I do not doubt that, with the advance in microbiology which is likely to be of such profound significance in other directions, this may be a device.

My Lords, if such a rate did obtain on the sea in theory the oil from the "Torrey Canyon" would be degraded in about nine to ten days, assuming that it was spread from the Seven Stones to Start Point and half-way across the Channel, and that the oil had a certain thickness. But this is a theoretical calculation: the rate is probably much lower. It is probable that the oil will become completely degraded in a period of two to three months. This may be a source of some comfort to your Lordships, when one realises the vast quantities of oil that are still going into the sea. Of course, it in no way minimises the nature of this partcular disaster, but oil has this advantage over certain other chemicals, which can be very much more persistent.

The noble Lord gave us an interesting and, to the best of my knowledge, accurate account of developments in international co-operation and British initiative. The first United Kingdom Statute directed towards reducing oil pollution was enacted, as he said, shortly after the First World War, as long ago as 1922; and the first International Conference was in Washington in 1926. In the 1920s, British shipowners observed a prohibited zone of 50 miles around coasts, and their example was followed by shipowners in several other countries.

Following the Second World War, and the great and increasing pollution from oil, it was realised that, notwithstanding what I have said about its degradation, oil can travel very long distances, under the influence of wind and currents, in a short period; that control over discharges from ships on the high seas was therefore also necessary; and that this was most likely to be achieved by international agreement. In 1954, Her Majesty's Government convened an International Conference in London, and this recognised that the complete avoidance of the discharge of persistent oils had to be achieved as soon as practicable. It was not possible at that time to fix a date by which it could be achieved, but a major step forward was taken in the signing of an International Convention.

In 1962, a further International Conference was convened by the Inter Governmental Maritime Consultative Organisation—IMco—and this Conference adopted some very important Amendments to strengthen the 1954 Convention. These Amendments come into force on May 18 next for all the member countries. And I may say here that 34 countries have now adopted the 1954 Convention, which has been in force for tankers since 1958, and all of these countries will be bound by the 1962 Amendments. They include nearly all the important maritime countries; and I am sure your Lordships will be glad to know, if you are not already aware of it, that one major maritime country which had not previously indicated its agreement—Japan —has now announced its intention to accept the Convention, which will mean introducing the necessary legislation. At this point, your Lordships may be interested if I say that the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, played a personal part in encouraging the Japanese to accept the Convention.

I have already told your Lordships that the British Government initiated the 1954 Conference, and I think it is right to stress that over the years, and particularly in recent times, the United Kingdom Government and British shipowners have played a very prominent part in the deliberations of the International Conferences, as well as in the discussions at IMCO. In this work the Government have had the support of the Advisory Committee on Oil Pollution, of which the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, is Chairman, and I am glad to have this opportunity of paying a tribute to the fine work of this Committee and of Lord Jellicoe. I am only slightly embarrassed that I preceded him as Chairman of the Committee: we merely changed seats when the Government changed. In addition, in 1954 the Minister of Transport set up a Standing Committee to advise him on measures for the prevention of oil pollution, and this Committee includes representatives of shipowners, oil companies, dock and harbour authorities and others, who give the Committee's work their strong support.

I want to stress this point about voluntary support, because I believe that the Advisory Committee of which the noble Earl is now Chairman, of which I had the honour to be Chairman and for the setting up of which the present Chancellor of the Exchequer was responsible, shows clearly the opportunity that exists for the individual voluntary body in mobilising world opinion —and this is very much a matter in which world opinion needs to be aroused so that Governments may be aware of the problem. I remember, in the efforts we were making at the time the legislation giving effect to the 1962 Convention was passing through this House, the help given by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and the Foreign Office, in pressing countries to accede to the Convention.

My Lords, the main work of IMCO (whose secretariat is in London) on the prevention of pollution is the responsibility of the Maritime Safety Committee and its Oil Pollution Sub-committe. It may be of interest if again I refer, as did the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, to some of the provisions for reducing pollution and the extent to which these provisions are being observed. I should therefore like to describe briefly the processes that take place in oil tankers. The cargo tanks of oil tankers have to be cleaned and freed from oily residues after the cargoes have been discharged, and noble Lords with a nautical background will be very familiar with the Butterworth process. This is, of course, a lengthy process; and generally the clearing of these oily residues has to be carried out before the ship arrives at its loading port or before it enters port for repair or survey.

Moreover, when not carrying cargo, tankers need to ballast some of their cargo tanks with sea water to ensure stability. When this ballast is discharged, oil remaining in the tanks is also discharged, unless precautions are taken. For many years, tankers have adopted the practice of retaining tank washings, oily residues and oil contaminated ballast water discharged overboard. The residue of settling, separation of oil and water can take place and most of the oil-free water discharged overboard. The residue in this slop tank must be retained on board—and this is where the point about reception for these residues made by the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, has revelance—and either pumped ashore at oil loading ports or tanker repair ports, or retained on board and a fresh crude oil cargo, if compatible, loaded on top of the residue. This latter process has become known as the load-on-top system, and I am glad to pay tribute to the initiative and energy with which most of the major oil carriers have adopted it.

I am glad to see the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, in his seat. He will remember our talks with certain of the oil companies at an earlier time and, in particular, with Mr. Kirby of Shell International Tankers, who took such a great personal interest. Generally, credit is due to the oil companies for their responsible approach, at least in recent years. This has led to a very substantial contribution to the reduction in the amount of oil discharged into the sea as compared with the earlier situation in which the residues were liable to be jettisoned into the sea.

A separate, but equally important, aspect of the problem is that in many oil-burning dry cargo ships the bunker tanks from which fuel has been used have to be ballasted with sea water in order to maintain stability. This ballast water, which becomes appreciably contaminated by oil, must usually be retained until arrival within sheltered waters or even within port areas to maintain the stability of the ship. For the moment we must face the fact that oil may also find its way into the sea by leakage or accidental spillage from ships; or as a result of a collision.

But to combat pollution of the sea, the Convention provides, among many other things, for the prohibition of the discharge of persistent oils in areas of the seas known as "prohibited zones." These have been greatly extended. It is interesting for those who remember the original Faulkner Report to note how closely the Atlantic zone, which takes into account the Gulf Stream, matches the original suggestions of the Faulkner Committee back in 1952 or 1954. The Convention urges member Governments to implement its provisions in order that complete avoidance of deliberate pollution may be observed from the earliest practicable date; it encourages research into the improvement of ship-borne equipment for reducing pollution—this eternal search for satisfactory separators—and into the development of effective measures to deal with pollution when it occurs.

All Governments who are members of the Convention have agreed to give legal effect to its provisions and have undertaken to prosecute the owners or masters of vessels registered in their respective territories if there is sufficient evidence of an offence. Contracting Governments have agreed that the penalties imposed for discharges that occur outside their territorial waters shall be adequate in severity and not less than those imposed for discharges in their territorial waters. The provisions of the 1954 Convention were given legal effect for British ships by the Oil in Navigable Waters Act 1955 and by Orders made under it. In addition the 1955 Act prohibits the discharge of oils of any type—that is, whether persistent or non-persistent—from British and foreign vessels into United Kingdom territorial waters. The 1962 Amendments will be given legal effect for British ships by the Oil in Navigable Waters Act 1963, whereby harbour authorities, conservancy boards and sea fisheries committees have power under the 1955 Act to prosecute offenders within their areas (mainly in territorial waters) and it is the Board of Trade's policy that they should enforce the Act within these areas.

These authorities act energetically and have undertaken most of the prosecutions under the Act. Of the 46 prosecutions undertaken in 1965 all but one were successful, and fines aggregating £4,750 were imposed. The maximum penalty for an oil pollution offence is £1,000 on summary conviction. On indictment there is no statutory limit. The court may award the whole or part of the fine to be paid for the defraying of expenses incurred in removing pollution. Two such awards were made in 1965, totalling £447. I realise, of course, that this sum is infinitesimal in comparison with the cost of the remedial measures after the "Torrey Canyon" incident—which incident, I might mention, it appears so far on estimate will cost this country something like £2 million.

Outside territorial waters the task of enforcement is more difficult, since ships may escape observation when far from land or if the offence occurs at night or in conditions of poor visibility. There is evidence that in the past some masters have deliberately evaded their responsibility. To assist in this task, the Board of Trade have standing arrangements with the Ministry of Defence, civil airlines and a number of maritime organisations whereby captains of aircraft and masters of vessels will report to H.M. Coastguard ships seen discharging oil and oil seen to be floating in coastal waters and take photographs. The Coastguard plot the likely drift of the oil patch and inform local authorities if and when it is likely to come ashore. These arrangements have recently been extended through the co-operation of the Chamber of Shipping and a number of fisheries organisations, who have agreed to ask masters and skippers to report ships believed to be discharging oil. Where possible, R.A.F. Coastal Command will divert an aircraft specifically to photograph the vessel in such cases. On the arrival of the suspected vessel in a United Kingdom port an investigation is made by a Board of Trade surveyor who has powers of inspection. There are routine inspections all the time to determine whether ships' equipment meet the requirement of the Convention. There were over 2,000 inspections in 1965. On the evidence of these inspections a decision would be made whether to prosecute, if it is a British vessel or a foreign vessel within territorial waters. Foreign vessels, when the offence occurs outside territorial waters, are reported to their Governments in accordance with Article X of the Convention.

It is recognised that much still remains to be done in the battle against pollution, and member Governments of the Convention will continue in their efforts, stimulated by public opinion, towards the ultimate aim of complete avoidance of the discharge. An important step towards this end, and one mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, is that all new ships of 20,000 tons gross or more to which the Convention applies and for which the building contract is placed on or after May 18, 1967, shall be prohibited from discharging persistent oil anywhere at sea. In addition, the size of prohibited zones for existing ships will be considerably extended. For example, discharges will be an offence anywhere in the North Sea and in all but two small areas of the Mediterranean. Work is proceeding as rapidly as possible in at least six countries on the development of a more effective oily water separator for dry cargo ships and, it is to be hoped, of a large capacity separator suitable for use on tankers.

I should like to say a few words at this stage about the "Torrey Canyon" incident and its aftermath. Very full statements have been made and many questions have been answered by the Prime Minister in another place and in your Lordships' House. Your Lordships will have seen the White Paper (Cmnd. 3246) which was published on the same day, and which describes in considerable detail (and not in the skeletal detail to which The Times referred) the action taken by the Government, local authorities and many others who were directly concerned with this disaster. Having regard to these very full statements, I do not think that there is much more that I can usefully say at this stage, although I should be very willing to answer any points. But I think I must answer some of the criticisms which have appeared in certain newspapers this week on the judgments that were exercised by Ministers and others, and the decisions that were taken about the "Torrey Canyon".

There was criticism of the decision to refloat the tanker, and of the absence of any positive information about the expert advice taken by Ministers in reaching their decisions. I can only say—again I am referring to The Times leader; the Daily Mail also had a leader which was rather longer than their extract from the White Paper—that in the opinion of the expert advisers of the Navy Department, and a representative of British Petroleum Limited, after a careful inspection on board the tanker, there was a reasonable prospect that, with the use of compressed air and other buoyancy aids, coupled with the very high spring tides of the weekend of March 25/26, the ship could be refloated and towed away, either to be sunk in very deep water or for the oil to be transferred to other tankers.

The reasons why other courses could not be followed were fully explained in the White Paper, and I have no doubt that these considerations were paramount, difficult as the judgment and the responsibilities were. There was criticism also of the time lapse between the breakup of the ship on the evening of March 26 and the first bombing. My Lords, the answer to this criticism is that after the break-up of the ship it might still have been possible to tow away some part of it, with a considerable amount of oil. Anyway, time was required for further consideration to be given to this possibility, and also, of course, it was necessary to warn shipping and to remove the Seven Stones Lightship.

The third criticism was why no preparations were made to lay charges on board the vessel and set fire to the oil, if this was finally found necessary. This criticism was repeated, despite what was said in another place, where it was pointed out conclusively that it would have been a most dangerous and hazardous operation; and we know how dangerous the state of the "Torrey Canyon" was at that time when gas was present and there was the risk that even a spark might cause a major explosion. Already one life had been lost.

Before turning to the future I will see whether there are any other points made in the speech of the noble Lord to which I should refer. Perhaps I might refer to one. I am a little surprised at his reference to local authorities being un- aware of the setting up of the Portsmouth operations centre. I know of his connection with the Solent Protection Society, similar to that of my noble friend Lord Huntingdon, and the invaluable work that this body does. My right honourable friend Mr. Willey arrived in Southampton to set up the centre during the evening of March 28, and the following morning he met chief officers of the Dorset, Hants and Isle of Wight County Councils and Bournemouth, Southampton and Portsmouth County Borough Councils. On Thursday he went to Poole for a conference with the local authority. I do not understand the noble Lord's point but if he wishes I would be glad to inquire further.


My Lords, I was referring not so much to the local authorities but to all the auxiliary associations, like the Solent Protection Society, who were quite willing to help, but who knew nothing about the organisation and what could be done.


My Lords, up to a point it is also a responsibility of the local authorities to inform the Press. It may well be that the tremendous focus on Cornwall made it seem less urgent, but certainly the point is an important one, and I should be very surprised if the Solent Protection Society were not consulted or given an opportunity to express a view. The noble Lord made a number of other interesting points which I will not comment on now. I noticed what he said about flags of convenience, and I think something more will be said on this in the course of the debate. But at this stage, while the Inquiry is going on, I would rather not comment further myself.

My Lords, let us take a brief look at the future. It is the urgent concern of the Government to examine the international as well as the national problems which have been brought to light by the "Torrey Canyon" disaster. This embraces a very wide complex of questions involving research, maritime law and maritime practice, and our aim must be to strengthen, wherever it is necessary and practicable, international arrangements designed to prevent accidents of this nature, and to deal with the consequences if they should occur. Her Majesty's Government have therefore taken the initiative in convening an early meeting of the Council of the Inter-Governmental Maritime Consultative Organisation to consider such questions. The Council of I.M.C.O. will meet on May 4 and 5—it could hardly meet sooner, since thirty days' notice is necessary to summon it—and it may well be that in due course other international bodies will consider some of the problems.

Other Governments have responded very rapidly to our desire for such a meeting of I.M.C.O., and in so doing they have shown that they share our concern at the problems I have described. This is very welcome indeed, since on questions of international shipping we are of course dependent on the agreement of other countries in drawing up effective arrangements. We are also considering urgently what action we can take both, as I say, in relation to this country and the seaward approaches within our own control, and what we can do without waiting for international agreement. A whole range of subjects is urgently under study by the Government at the moment.

I am sure that the House would wish to be associated with the expressions of admiration of the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, for those who have coped so splendidly—the Royal Navy and the voluntary organisations, the Army and the Royal Air Force, and especially the volunteer naturalists. These expressions were voiced earlier in another place. Many people have been interested, and great interest has been shown by other countries. It is almost impossible to list those to whom praise is due, which just shows what an emergency does in the way of stimulating morale, local patriotism, and willingness to help.

These efforts, and the efforts of the Government (and I am sure that the local authorities feel the same) will continue until the pollution has been completely cleared, and all these people will therefore continue to earn our gratitude. My Lords, many tributes have been paid. We have undergone, and certain areas are continuing to undergo, a very distressing experience. The one consolation we can, and must, offer to those who have suffered is that the lessons learned from this experience will be used in an unremitting and strengthened fight against pollution. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, can feel that he has made his contribution in introducing this important subject.

5.30 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Teynham for the way in which he introduced this debate, and for his good timing. I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, for the full and objective account he has given of this considerable problem, and for his kind words about me personally. As the noble Lord said, I must avow an interest in this matter, for I succeeded him as Chairman of the British Advisory Committee on Oil Pollution at Sea. The noble Lord, with his Parliamentary colleague, Mr. Callaghan, have fathered a healthy baby. I hope that it is still lusty. I hope that it will be even lustier when I hand it back to him in a short time.

Following the precedent established in this debate, I shall have little to say about the incident of the "Torrey Canyon". I assume that the noble Lord's slip of pronunciation—"Tory Canyon" —was inadvertent. Almost as much printer's ink has been spilled about the ship's miscarriage as the poor ship herself spilled oil. I should like to take this opportunity of joining in the tributes to all those who have helped to deal with this unprecedented catastrophe—Services, volunteers, scientists and local authorities—and I am prepared to give the Government such credit as is due to them.

I have only two critical questions to put to the noble Lord at this stage—and I am speaking now not as Chairman of the Advisory Committee but as from these Benches. The first is this. We read in paragraph 6 of the White Paper that: neither legal nor financial considerations inhibited Government action at any stage"— a robust and sensible statement; and when confronted with a national hazard like the grounding of the "Torrey Canyon", a robust and sensible attitude. But I find it rather hard to reconcile this statement with the words which the Under-Secretary for the Navy was widely reported as having used at Devonport on March 20. He said: All I can say at this juncture is that until the owners have declared the ship a total loss there can be no question of destroying it. Was Mr. Foley misquoted? If not, how can these two statements be reconciled?

Secondly, I hope that the noble Lord, despite what he said earlier (and here I am following my noble friend Lord Teynham), will be able to confirm that the fact that this vessel was sailing under a flag of convenience was not a contributory factor to the accident. It certainly does not lie with me, and it is not my wish, to defend flags of convenience; but I think that all of us, including the Prime Minister, must be scrupulous about our facts here. And one fact is that the record of the Liberian merchant navy, the largest in the world to-day, I regret to say, in this matter of third party claims—and I think that this is as good a yardstick of efficiency and operating standards of a merchant fleet as any other—is as good as, if not better than, the record of any other merchant fleet in the world to-day.

The "Torrey Canyon" accident was unprecedented. It is clearly right that the facts should be established to discover how she managed, in a calm sea and in fairly clear visibility, to impale herself on the Seven Sisters. It is clearly right that we should learn whether thereafter, in an area of admittedly great difficulty and delicate calculation, everything possible was done to mitigate the disaster. In my view, it is clearly right that a Select Committee of Parliament—I should hope of the two Houses of Parliament—should be set up, if this would serve, as I think it would, to shed a fuller light on all that happened. But I entirely agree with the two noble Lords who have preceded me. We can he more useful now not in raking over the reasons why this vessel went on the rocks, but in suggesting how in future this sort of accident can best be prevented or, if it occurs, mitigated.

My other reason for not dwelling on this incident is that I think it would be wrong to allow ourselves to be mesmerised by it. As both noble Lords have explained, much progress was made in the 50s and 60s in tackling this worldwide problem of oil pollution. Yet the sad fact remains, as the most recent Report of the Advisory Committee records, that: It is most disturbing that oil pollution around the coasts of the British isles during 1966 has been the worst for many years. In 1966, my Lords, not 1967. There were at least three major incidents last year. There was the incident in May, when a Japanese tanker, the "Tokyo Maru", left a slick about eight miles long and half-a-mile wide behind her off the Scillies. There was the incident in the Medway in September, when a German tanker inadvertently discharged about 1,700 tons of oil and, as a result, some 5,000 sea birds were killed. There was also the serious incident at Milford Haven in February of this year when a Greek tanker, the "C.P. Goulandris" discharged a large quantity of oil. The causes for this are not far to seek. On the one hand, we have this increasing and necessary import of oil into these Islands, rising in compound by 10 per cent. per annum, and, on the other, we have the accident factor. With the increasing size of tankers, the mathematical chances of a collision decrease but the damage which results from an incident, if one occurs, is vastly increased.

I am glad for these reasons that the Government have asked for an early meeting of I.M.C.O. With that meeting in mind, I should like to proffer some suggestions—and they are tentative suggestions—about the results which Her Majesty's Government should be seeking in this field, either inside or outside I.M.C.O. I am certain that I shall carry the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, with me in my first proposal: that the Government should redouble their efforts—and I would pay tribute to the efforts which they have made—to get all shipowning countries to join the club of non-polluters, to become parties to the 1954 Convention. I was delighted to hear what the noble Lord said about the likely Japanese adherence to the Convention, and I have been delighted to see that Greece, another important maritime country, is on the way to adhering—a fact which the noble Lord did not mention. I am confident that he can confirm that Her Majesty's Government will now make a really determined effort to get all other ship-owning countries, not least the Russians, because they are good and helpful members of I.M.C.O., to ratify this useful, albeit imperfect, Convention.

I have just said that the Convention is imperfect. So it is. It lays down certain ocean zones where, save in gravest emergency, oil cannot be discharged. Unfortunately, as the noble Lord has pointed out, oil is a good sailor. It is no respector of zones. The other grave defect, which has already been mentioned, is that it is exceedingly difficult to enforce. It is difficult to catch out a ship, black-bilged, as it were, making a mess on the high seas. And it is not always easy to pin a particular mess on a particular ship.

I should like to suggest some ways in which the Government might go about tackling, in co-operation with other maritime countries, this really intractable problem. The total prohibition—absolutely total—of all discharges of oil at sea, save perhaps in certain very limited and sharply and clearly defined circumstances, must remain our aim. We should vigorously pursue research on the technical means that have been mentioned—really efficient separators, self-monitoring devices and so on—which should enable this aim to be achieved quickly.

Meanwhile the perfect may be the enemy of the good. Great advances have been made. I should like to join the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, and my noble friend Lord Teynham in paying tribute to the way in which some of our oil companies—Shell International in the lead—have pioneered the technique c4I1ed the "load-on-top" system. I understand that some three-quarters of the world's tankers now use this system and as a result each year 1 million tons or more of oil which would otherwise have been dumped in the oceans of the world are retained on board. Clearly this is an advance. Clearly there is a great deal to he said for getting the other 25 per cent. of the world's tankers to use a system which has such obvious advantages. I hope that this can be done.

Then there is the question of enforcement; and here I have one rather tentative suggestion to make. I would remind the noble Lord that the International Convention of 1960 for the Safety of Life at Sea (Regulation 19, Chapter 1) provides for a system of Certificate or laissez passer to be conferred on ships passing through the ports of member States. It might be possible, it seems to me, to get international agreement to a procedure whereby if a suspiciously clean tanker puts into someone else's port, and there is a prima facie case that she has been guilty of the offence of wilful pollution, then she could be detained and action taken against her. This would almost certainly entail a considerable re-writing of the 1954 Convention. I recognise that difficulty, but I hope that the Government will be able at least to look at the idea.

Of course your Lordships will say: "This is all very well. Perhaps with persistence and ingenuity we can stop the deliberate fouling of the seas by oil. But what can we do to ward off the sort of nightmare, which could only too easily become reality one day, of a collision in narrow waters, say in the English Channel, of two giant 200,000 ton tankers?" I understand that the Government are pressing for a tighter Code of Navigation at sea. They are right to do so. Three hundred thousand ships a year pass through the Dover Strait, and most of them within five miles of the white cliffs. At any one time there are likely to be some 40 ships in the Strait, 20 in each direction, and for each of those 20 ships there are 20 possibilities of collision. Clearly, therefore, we as a country stand to lose more, in terms of fouled seas and fouled beaches, fouled birds and fouled bikinis, than any other country in the world.

Clearly, therefore, it is right for us to take the lead—if we are taking the lead; and I hope that we are—in pressing for a better Code of Navigation. The present situation, as I see it, is farcical. We control and monitor aircraft movements. The world spends millions of pounds on monitoring every bit of ironmongery which is put into outer space. But we do virtually nothing to control and monitor the world's sea lanes—those sea lanes which are increasingly crowded by increasingly big and potentially dangerous ships. We do virtually nothing to stop the "Sky-lark" on a sightseeing excursion from Southsea putting at risk a giant tanker. What should be done? I should like to suggest, again rather tenatively, five specifics to the Government.

First, we should sponsor the introduction forthwith of the special sea traffic regulations for the Dover Strait recommended by the International Working Party and approved by IMCO. I gather that everything is ready here, subject to Britain and France introducing the necessary navigational aids. Can the noble Lord tell us when these aids will be ready, and when this new regime for the Strait will come into effect? It is probably the most dangerous shipping lane in the world to-day. Second, we should sponsor the introduction forthwith of separation areas for shipping in densely crowded sea lanes. I will name a few. They are almost a chronicle of our sea history, a sort of Hornblower list: the Sound, the Lizard, Bishop, Ushant, Finisterre, Cape Roca, Cape St. Vincent, the Strait of Gibraltar and so on. Third, we should consider whether special regulations are required for the special ship. For example, should not the tankers making for Milford Haven always be required to pass westward of the Scillies? Fourth, we should at least consider—I put it no higher than that—whether the navigation regimes for especially crowded areas should remain voluntary or not. Fifth, we should, in my view, wherever possible, proceed here by international agreement and after consultation with the interests concerned, which have a lot at stake here.

One other serious gap in maritime law at present is that if there is an accident outside territorial waters there is no established code, as I understand it, which permits a State to take emergency measures to deal with a foreign ship which may be endangering the State concerned unless and until the shipowner waives his rights to the wreck. It seems to me that this is a matter which must be put right. The shipowner's rights will obviously have to be safeguarded in one way or another. But I hope that we can secure an understanding in international law (and IMCO would seem to be the right forum for this) that in an emergency a national or international body (again, IMCO might be the right body) would be empowered to take emergency measures to avert the oil threat arising from a tanker accident on the high seas outside territorial waters.

This, of course, raises the whole question of third-party liability. In another place, two days ago, the Prime Minister very rightly said: One of the difficulties under present international insurance law is the very low ceiling put on third-party insurance."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, 4/4/67; col. 50.] He added that: this is one of the things we want to consider urgently for the future. As I understand it, under the provisions of the 1957 Brussels Convention on the Limitation of Liability the third-party liability of the "Torrey Canyon" for oil pollution would be some £1½ million. The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, has said that the Government would estimate that the total damage resulting from this accident is £2 million. The ceiling—and I think there must be a ceiling—seems much too low. I hope that it can be raised by international agreement, and that this is one of the courses of action which the Government will be actively pressing.


My Lords, I did not give the total cost of the damage: I referred to the cost to public funds. I make no estimate of the cost of damage, some of which is not quantifiable.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for that correction. This, of course, reinforces the point which I was making, that the third-party liability should be raised in a case of this sort.

There is one further point, in the international field, that I should like to make. So far, what most speakers have said in this debate has related to that marvellously useful and messy commodity, oil. But there are other equally useful but much more lethal cargoes that are being carried across the oceans of the world to-day, and sometimes deposited in those oceans: nuclear wastes, chemicals in bulk, liquid gas. Many of your Lordships will recall a young lady called "Betsy", an American hussy, a hurricane, which did a vast amount of damage in September, 1965. Among other things, it sank a tanker barge in the Mississippi carrying a cargo of liquid chlorine. That cargo was not safely salvaged until two months later. If the tanks had been punctured, if the chlorine had been released, the 300,000 inhabitants of Baton Rouge would have been at deadly toxic risk. I personally believe that the time has come to extend and tighten the International Convention on Oil Pollution. I also believe that the time has come to see whether we need a convention covering the carriage and discharge of other and perhaps more dangerous cargoes. So much, my Lords, for the international plane.

I will deal very briefly with the national action. I believe, and my Committee believe, that our national emergency arrangements certainly require review in the light of this disaster. There is also a clear need—and I need not labour the point here, because I think it is recognised by the Government—for much more research in this field, not least on the effects of detergents on sea life, and whether other agents would do the job equally well with less damage to the marine environment. As my noble friend Lord Teynham said, we should be looking to our booms and also to the possibility of decontamination vessels, and a whole host of other expedients should be examined.

Again, there are the interests of those affected. What compensation arrangements are proposed, or what reimbursements are proposed, in the future if there is an emergency like this? We know (and I am not questioning them at this stage) the provisions made—and they seem reasonably generous—by the Government for this immediate emergency. But what is our thinking about the future? We need to look also at the national legislation. I wonder whether it is in all respects stringent enough. As the noble Lord said, the Oil in Navigable Waters Act 1955 provides for a maximum fine of only £1,000, and I think that the average level of fines last year amounted to only a little over £100. This, of course, in itself is not a very terrible deterrent.


My Lords, there is no limit on the fine on indictment. But I note the point.


My Lords, I recognise that. Above all, I believe that what we really need to do is to digest, and to digest very carefully indeed, our experience of this disaster, or near disaster. As a country, I suppose we now have more experience in this field than any other country in the world. The Prime Minister said in another place that we intend to ensure that that experience is made available to all other countries where the hazard may occur. Fine! But can the noble Lord confirm that the fruits of this hard and bitter experience are also being made available to us in Parliament? I am thinking of the detailed technical reports which we understand, for example, the Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government has now called for and which are now being prepared. I hope very much that these technical assessments will be made available to Parliament, and made available at an early date.

I should like to say just this in conclusion. I was re-reading over the weekend the Report of the First International Conference organised by the Committee which Mr. Callaghan founded and which I have inherited from the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton. It is the Report of the First London Conference in October, 1953. I was struck very forcibly by the words which the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, who has clone so much in this field, used at the conclusion of his remarks at that Conference. This is what the noble Lord said: If man makes himself a nuisance to the rest of nature, of which after all he is a part, and continues to befoul his natural surroundings, the consequences will come back upon man, upon his health and his pleasures, and will increasingly impair the best and sanest means whereby he is able to sustain and re-create his physical and spiritual energies and wellbeing. With that as their text, I hope that the Government will, not only now, under the immediate spur of this particular incident, but also in the long and duller run, bring their full energies to bear, both nationally and internationally, towards a solution of this very difficult but very important problem of the pollution of our oceans. If so, they will have my full support.

5.57 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure your Lordships will realise that it was with feelings of some rashness and even presumption that I was committed to taking part in this debate so soon after taking a seat here, being the "newest boy" at any rate on this Bench. But I have a special concern for Cornwall and the people of Cornwall, and I could not but feel that a voice from Cornwall should be heard at least briefly. I have also concern for those of your Lordships whom we hope we shall welcome yet again down in Cornwall this year for their holidays. We have had inquiries, both private and semi-official, from Members of this House and of another place: "Is Polgooth all right?" "What about Porthgwarra and Port Naves?" We have even had the plaintive inquiry from Wiltshire: "How long are you going to keep my gardener? He is a part-time fireman". Answers to most of these questions can be given, and I hope I have done some homework so that I come, so far as information is concerned, well primed—but not in any sense of the word "well-oiled".

I am also encouraged by reports that I have heard of your Lordships' treatment in former days of a gallant predecessor of mine, Bishop Hunkin, who used to discourse learnedly on Cornish broccoli, and was listened to with respect and even affection. I do not propose to discourse on Cornish broccoli, or even on oil. I came here to learn about oil, and I have already, thanks to the noble Lord, learnt about microbiology. Cornish broccoli is the concern of the market gardeners. Though not so severely affected, it is significant that the growers of Marazion are no longer able, at least temporarily, to use the seaweed provided by Nature and Providence for the improvement of their broccoli. The fishermen may be worse affected. At present they are busy "deterging". But at what cost to their future prosperity? It is not necessarily a comfort to earn more for a day's dirty, and sometimes dangerous, work spraying detergent than you would normally hope to get for a day's catch, if it is only for a limited period, when in the long run there may be no more fishing or people just will not buy your fish.

More concerned are those engaged in what is called, somewhat paradoxically, the holiday industry. Reports, inevitably exaggerated, sometimes remarkably inaccurate, reach the general public and the world. Yesterday, your Lordships may have read a report in The Times from their naval correspondent at Plymouth which, after quite correctly reporting the situation at Sennen, went on to refer to Camborne and Redruth, "where new oil has come ashore to-day". It is said that there was a report recently in one of the Midland newspapers that in the early days 10,000 people were on their knees in the streets of Penzance. It has been commented on that report, "Would to God 10,000 people in Penzance were brave enough to go on their knees to pray! "Yet there was a full church when the Mayor called the citizens of Penzance to prayer: That all may be strengthened in their resolve to minimise the effect of the oil pollution. We heard reports that we might reserve that wisdom of the Church of England to keep the mean between the two extremes of too much stiffness in refusing and too much easiness in admitting. At first it was as if there was a new Plague; but Pharaoh knew nothing of a plague of oil. It was ironic that one of the lessons on Easter Sunday had to do with the deliverance from Egypt and the crossing of the Red Sea: "And the Good Lord sent a strong East wind". That was ironic in Cornish churches, for we were then under a North-Westerly. No doubt it was noted by a distinguished visitor to the Isles of Scilly when he was reading the Lessons, for they would not have wanted a strong East wind. Pharaoh's chariots and his horsemen were not drowned in the depths of the sea; they appeared in a more helpful guise across the Red Sea of the Tamar.

I have been in touch with the chairman and surveyor of the County Council, the heads of the Civil Defence, the Fire Services, and many other voluntary bodies. There has been 100 per cent. co-operation between the Services and the local authorities. "Operation Oil Slick" is a real blitz on the whole coastline, wherever there is oil, and thanks to the heavy equipment and power sprayers they have been able to deal with any beach, North or South, according to the wind. We are told that many beaches will be far cleaner than they have been for a long time.

Therefore, my Lords, I would express on behalf of the people of Cornwall our gratitude for the ready and generous help. This was recognised at once as a national emergency, and not some kind of stunt by Cornish Nationalists. It has now been established that the beaches and people of Cornwall are the concern not only of the Cornish but of all, and especially, of course, of those who take their holidays there. Much has already been said about the gratitude which is owed to those who have given so much and are striving so hard and so successfully in this new "battle of the beaches".

I have also had reports from and talks with the clergy of the parishes around the coastline which is affected. They meet all sorts of people, and people were at first apprehensive. Now they are more confident. Some even say that it is the people outside Cornwall who now need reassuring. People got together in a wonderful way, and the earlier folks with buckets and watering cans soon gave way to the equipment and the really successful power spraying of the Services, the Fire Services, and all the others. The Services are now in evidence everywhere; halls have been taken over, and "Mums" are dispensing cups of tea.

Cancellations of holidays are not so many as were feared. Coaches are expected to be even more numerous than in other years, though perhaps there may be some element of curiosity about this. Some bright hotelier or local authority may find it necessary to preserve a patch of beach well oiled just for show, because it has been cleared everywhere else with such success. But with all the fascinating arguments and researches about legal responsibility, compensation and insurance, and the scientific treatment concerned in this new and unprecedented calamity, I would plead that the people involved, and those likely to suffer, are constantly kept in mind, and all those who are helping them continually encouraged.

6.5 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to offer my humble congratulations on the extremely able and sincere speech we have just heard, and I am sure that I speak for all your Lordships when I say that we hope we shall hear many more from the same speaker in your Lordships' House.

I suppose I should declare an interest, being the President of the Solent Protection Society which has been mentioned to-day. We have of course a great responsibility and concern for what is happening in the waters of the Solent and the shores around the Solent, from the Needles to Spithead, and we are extremely anxious about what may happen should this oil creep into this area. So far the West of England have, unfortunately for them, taken the brunt of this disaster, but we are faced with great possible damage.

There is the risk not only of our beaches being fouled, but also the shipping—and, as your Lordships probably know, it is a great centre for boat sailing of all kinds. Immense damage could be done. We have well-known bird sanctuaries, and it would be disastrous if they were completely destroyed. Also we have the fish, oyster and clam beds. Whether it will affect the river fish, such as the sea trout going up the rivers, I do not know. That alone is enough to frighten us, but on top of that a considerable part of the coast is composed of marsh; that is to say, it is really only soil held together by reed and grasses. If those were killed by the oil the soil would crumble, and the scale of the resulting erosion would be really disastrous. So from these points of view we are extremely anxious and worked up about the possibility of damage should this oil spread up this fairway.

I understand that attempts are being made to put a boom across the Needles, and although I know little about this from a technical point of view I am told that it will be an extremely difficult thing to do, first because of the depth in certain parts of the Channel and, secondly, because of the very strong tide which runs through there and which may make it a hazardous operation. We are not altogether as optimistic as perhaps we should like to be, but we hope that the boom may hold up the oil long enough for it to be coped with while it is still on the sea.

Like other noble Lords, I wish to pay a tribute to the Armed Forces, the Navy, the Royal Air Force and the Army, who I think have done a wonderful job, also to the local authorities who have coped with this, and the—


And the Government.


My Lords, I am coming to the Government later—and also the large oil companies, for when they were finally brought in I think they were the people who really understood and had the technical knowledge and the equipment to deal with oil pollution better than anybody else. Finally, I think that the Government, faced with a real emergency, have coped as well as they could under difficult circumstances.

There is just one point I would draw to the attention of the noble Lord who is to answer this debate; that is, whether more use could not be made of volunteers. We have had the difficulty that constantly people have been ringing up our Society asking, "What can we do? We have a small boat; is it any use? Can one get a bucket and spade?". And we have not known what to answer. There has not been enough instruction or publicity so that we could inform the public. There has been a fund of goodwill and tremendous enthusiasm, but no one knows really quite what to do. I feel the volunteer could play a very big part in this kind of emergency.

I do not want to deal with the main problems, which other people know more about than I do—navigation and so forth. But I should like to support very much the idea of the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, of having more navigational control of the Channel, which is the most dangerous shipping fairway. As he said, aircraft are controlled all the time, but no one thinks of controlling shipping. Surely there ought to be some rule of the road and control of ships through that very hazardous and comparatively narrow channel. Someone told me the other day that the ordinary 30,000-ton tanker, which is beginning to be relatively small these days compared to the "Torrey Canyon" and others, has tanks whose walls if spread out would cover nine acres. It is fantastic.

I suppose that the discharge from tankers is one of the main problems. I do not want to deal with these technical points, but I think we must recognise that accidents are bound to happen. Men are fallible; even the most technical machines go wrong. We must be prepared not just for one disaster; there are bound to be others, including collisions; and I presume there will come a day when many of the wrecks on the ocean bed will have rusted through and oil will be surging up from them. So we must be in a constant state of preparedness to meet what must come inevitably over the next few months or years as the case may be.

I should like to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they could not set up a permanent organisation which would have the equipment and the knowledge to deal with this wherever this menace threatens us; and, secondly, whether they could not set up a permanent fund to reimburse local authorities. It seems to me very hard on the local authority, who may have to pay as much as £1,000 a mile to clean the beaches. Surely this should be a national responsibility, and until this disaster it has not been so. I would urge the Government to do something, however it is done, about having finance available to help local authorities permanently.

The third thing I would suggest is this. Would it not be possible to bring Civil Defence into this? We have an organisation of Civil Defence which has not, thank goodness! much to do at the moment. Would they not find this an extremely useful exercise, to be on the alert to contact the different authorities, the oil companies and the Armed Forces, so that wherever bad oil pollution occurred they could mobilise the public if necessary, or direct operations on a small scale, and help to be the liaison between the different forces if the disaster should become big and dangerous?

I do not wish to add anything further. I think that most that can be said has been said. I should again like to congratulate the Forces and the people who have acted so well. I hope the Government will bear in mind that when this disaster is over we still will be menaced, and that there is a lot still to be done.

6.14 p.m.


My Lords, I count it as a privilege to be the first from these Benches to congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Truro on a maiden speech of great distinction. It was a fine mixture of good humour and sound common sense and humanity. At a recent meeting, of a non-political nature, which I had to address on the work of the House of Lords, I was asked whether the Bishops' Benches contributed usefully to our debates in this House. The answer I gave was, of course, solidly in the affirmative. I only wish that those who asked this question had been listening a few moments ago to the right reverend Prelate, and I know that we all wish that he will contribute frequently to our discussions.

I should like to associate myself with the tributes paid to the Armed Forces and to the local authorities in the work which they have carried out, particularly in the West Country, in the recent "Torrey Canyon" incident. The only reason why I rise to speak is because I own a small property at Pevensey Bay, on the East Sussex coast, where we, too, suffer, on a much lesser scale, from occasional pollution by oil. Those who know these beaches know the discomfort and the inconvenience caused, particularly to children and animals who may tread in this oil and get it on their skins or on their clothes, and also to the fishermen. I myself have frequently found, when fishing off the East Sussex coast, that the line of the rod has been coated in oil. Beachy Head to some extent provides protection from oil seeping too far along the coast, and so far, at least in recent years, there has been no disaster of the "Torrey Canyon" magnitude. But some concern is felt by the authorities that this might happen.

I think that the Government are to be commended in sending to the scene the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing, and I have had a letter from the Town Clerk of Eastbourne, whom I know personally, who recognises this effort and thanks the Government for it. Nevertheless, quite clearly, a junior Minister, capable as he might he, and undoubtedly is, cannot control the whole matter. It is something with which the Services are probably the most competent to deal. The greatest concern shown on the South Coast is, of course, for the holiday traffic. Together with this is the announcement by the Government that a 75 per cent. grant will be given to local authorities to combat this oil pollution. There have been questions in another place and elsewhere as to whether this grant can he stepped up to 100 per cent. I can see difficulties here. At the same time, many of those who live on the South Coast are not particularly wealthy people. Some are; but a number are retired people on fixed pensions. New industries have brought workers to live there. Industries have moved into places on the South Coast, and a good many of those employed in them are not people who can afford large increases in rates. So I hope the Government will take note of what has been said about increases in the grant.

I think, too, that tribute should be paid to the R.S.P.C.A., and to all the voluntary help which has been given. There are many coastal resorts which people visit to study nature life, bird life, and so on. I think the work which the R.S.P.C.A., and others who have helped, have done at Mousehole and elsewhere, is worthy of the highest commendation. I hope that those who have hitherto tended to sneer at the R.S.P.C.A. as being a rather quaint set-up will now realise the good work which they are doing. If a disaster or near-disaster of this nature occurs, the hoteliers, too, may face a serious situation, particularly if it comes to oil and other substances polluting their carpets and furniture. Having spent 17 years in the insurance world, I know some of the wrangles that have occurred as a result of claims of this kind, and the difficulties facing the insurance companies. Therefore, in the interests of tourism, and also because of the wish of this Government, and I think probably of other Governments, that we should spend more of our money at home, I hope that the Government will do all they can to help all those who may be affected by oil pollution.

6.22 p.m.


My Lords, may I join the noble Lord, Lord Auckland, in thanking the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Truro for his contribution to-day? As Lord Auckland said, we hope to hear more from him. The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, has pointed out that the problem to which the Motion draws attention has been with us for a long time. We had attempts to control it away back in the 1920s. In more recent years we have had a lot of public indignation, and we indeed had the International Convention which is referred to in the Motion, but it has taken a disaster which could have been a major catastrophe to bring home the magnitude of the risks.

I want to follow the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, in expanding the significance of this near-disaster or catastrophe to wider implications than oil pollution. It is a deplorable fact that we have invariably to wait for disasters before what should be safeguarded against becomes apparent. We could not get a sanitary service in this country until the epidemic which started from a pump in the parish of St. James's in London reminded the well-to-do that cholera was not a disease reserved for slum-dwellers. The fate of the Japanese fishermen on the "Lucky Dragon", well outside the United States bomb-testing area, gave the lie to official assurances that radioactive fall-out could be localised. And even then, when H-bomb testing started punching holes in the stratosphere, we were solemnly told that radioactive materials would stay up there, in the "attics".

But the radioactive chickens came home to roost. We had the alarming manifestations of the increasing presence of radio-strontium in the bones of growing children all over the world. There is not a teenager anywhere in the world who does not have this man-made brand mark of the atomic age—this symbol of man's recklessness—in his or her bones. The radiation had come back into the Troposphere and into our climatic currents. I would remind your Lordships that those of us who warned, with some scientific knowledge and insight into such things, were regarded as dangerous subversives. But eventually, with public instruction or enlightenment, we got the test ban in the end—an acknowledgement that the testing had been polluting the whole of our atmosphere with dangerous radiation.

On January 17, 1966, a B52 from the American air base at North Carolina, which had been on patrol on the frontiers of the U.S.S.R. in the Middle East, collided with a United States aircraft, an oil tanker which was intercepting to refuel. Both aircraft disintegrated near the Spanish village of Palomares. The Strategic Air Force bomber carried four uranium-plutonium-uranium 235 hydrogen bombs, each of them with the tremendous destructive power of 1½ million tons of T.N.T. In other words, each represented 75 times the power of the bomb which had destroyed Hiroshima. The bombs were unarmed; they could not trigger off as an H-bomb explosion. But they contained radioactive material which could be released if the weapons were damaged. One was found undamaged. Three were missing. Two were recovered later, damaged, and the third was later traced out to sea.

Your Lordships will recall what took place in that search and ultimate recovery. You will recall that the soil had to be removed from large areas of Palomares because it was radioactive. It had to be put into casks and shipped back to America, for disposal in the atomic burial grounds in the United States. Incidentally, it has cost more to bury live atoms in the United States over the past 20 years than it cost to bury all the Pyramid kings of ancient Egypt. And your Lordships have been reminded within the last few days that 15 months later fresh checks are being made for the possible radiation consequences to the people, to the soil and to the sea of Palomares.

Again, I would remind your Lordships that these hazards and their international implications are not unknown or unforeseen by those who have a scientific awareness and conscience about such things. I myself, at the invitation of the University of Chicago, made two successive inquiries into the peaceful hazards of atomic energy. We did spell out the risks, among other things, of disposal of nuclear wastes at sea. We did spell out the risks implicit in nuclear ships and submarines and of nuclear-fuelled rockets, liable to return to the atmosphere or to splash down in the seas. And we emphatically pointed out the inadequacies of the international legislation to deal with such contingencies or to provide adequate safeguards.

I share the concern, as we all do, about the oil pollution from the "Torrey Canyon". But I would ask your Lordships to consider seriously the possibilities of such giant tankers, including the million-tonner which the Japanese are proposing to build, being nuclear powered. If that ship which broke up on the Seven Stones had been nuclear powered, the reactors would, like the untriggered bombs at Palomares, have created great radiation, and the oil now coming ashore would have been radioactive. I should like your Lordships to consider what would have happened if instead of merely trying to clear our beaches of oil we had been shipping all the soil to Britain's nuclear atomic burial grounds. I am sorry to be a Cassandra, but our sleep o'nights apathy, our fear of being afraid, is making us evade—and still making us evade, in spite of the reminders we get—and "leave it to the other chaps" the portentous risks involved in our modern technological civilisation. The "Torrey Canyon" is one portent of that portentous future.

I should like to reply to criticism, and particularly to the Press who have suddenly become editorially knowledgeable about possibilities which they might have ventilated any time in the past twenty years. I know because I, as science editor of a national daily, tried to get such things, including the oil risks, printed. I tried unsuccessfully, because oil is a dull subject—until a ship containing it runs aground on the Seven Stones and can be photographed dramatically. In spite of its being my own profession, I should like to say that I am rather ashamed of those who, by hindsight, can always find all the explanations the morning after, of what they had not even thought about the day before.

I consider that the White Paper is a highly creditable account of policy decisions taken in an emergency. It had never happened this way before and we had to improvise. We had even to carry out experiments ad hoc. We had to try out detergents, and I doubt whether my noble friend Lord Shackleton who will be replying for the Government will be able to say —at least I hope he will not be so rash as to say—that detergents arc utterly harmless.


My Lords, I do not know why the noble Lord should think that any noble Lords would believe that these detergents are harmless, but if they do they will certainly not think so after the noble Lord's speech.


My Lords, I am glad to have that reassurance. White fish which are "whiter than white" will be extremely interesting. We have had an alarming and expensive experience, a situation in which we have had to improvise but from which, as the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, and others have pointed out, a great deal has been learned and great areas of present ignorance exposed. Let us regard ourselves as conscripted pioneers, but let us also see that our experience is shared and that in future the world shares the responsibilities as well.

I want to commend to the Government the idea of an international calamity force under the ægis of the United Nations. When the present Government, as proof of its commitment to the United Nations, offered the logistic facilities for six battalions for the Peacekeeping Force, I thought then that it should be extended to non-military situations. The idea commended itself to me first because a standby force of this kind would be most efficient. It must be efficient, otherwise we are wasting our money on our Fighting Services. I think the experience of the last few weeks has shown that in an emergency of this kind we have not been wasting our money on inefficiency, and that we have an efficient service. Secondly, I suggest that a calamity force would emphasise the pacific as well as the pacifying purposes of United Nations actions and would show a proper concern for humanity in desperate situations. I had in mind natural catastrophies—earthquakes, hurricanes, famines, floods, and so on—as well as man-made calamities of which the "Torrey Canyon" is not only an example but a forewarning of much more critical and dangerous things which might indeed happen.

I am glad that the Government have decided to call in the I.M.C.O. and presumably help to reinforce its authority—the I.M.C.O., the Inter-Governmental Maritime Consultative Organisation, about which, I may say, the British Press knew so little that they used small letters for it. I hope that we are going to reinforce that organisation. I sincerely hope that we shall take urgent steps to reconvene the United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea. I would remind your Lordships of the first Conference, which sat from February to April, 1958. I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, will agree, but anyone who cares to go over the records will find that it was a very disappointing Conference. Conflicting demands of sovereignty, many of them inherently contradictory, prevented any comprehensive jurisdiction even over the high seas and deeps.

One of the great controversial issues—I use the phraseology of the Conference itself—which was not properly resolved was that of flags of convenience; and here I would disagree with the noble Lord who introduced the Motion. I do not want to swing any "dead cats", hut I would point out that at that Conference in 1958 shipowners, seafarers' organisations and the International Labour Organisation had the profoundest misgivings about the nature of the flags of convenience. The critical phrase in the discussion was contained in Article 4, which states: Every State, whether coastal or not, has a right to sail ships under its flag on high seas. Article 5 states: There must be a genuine link between the State and the ship. In particular the State must effectively exercise its jurisdiction and control in administrative, technical and social matters over ships flying its flag. As the Report of the Conference points out, this was a highly contentious Article, and Liberia conspicuously claimed that "genuine link" was an undesirable innovation in international law. Liberia demanded that this should be withdrawn, but the Conference of the Convention in fact upheld the phrase "genuine link". If we are going to have an International Convention, let it at least be meaningful, and let us at least regard the commitments of countries which nominally take responsibility for shipping as including the fact that that link should be a genuine link.

6.38 p.m.


My Lords, a leading member of the Opposition Front Bench, seeing that I was to speak in this debate, asked me what I knew about oil. I said "Nothing"; nor do I. So, not unnaturally, I do not propose to speak about it. Instead, I am going to use the fact that the "Torrey Canyon" happened to be carrying the Liberian flag as an opportunity to ask the Government for their general views on flags of convenience. I am particularly glad, therefore, to follow the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, who strongly stressed the importance of this matter. I must declare here that I am a "name" at Lloyd's, but perhaps your Lordships will not disbelieve me when I say that it is not the insurance angle which interests me, nor the use of these flags for purposes of tax evasion, but simply whether the conditions of work and safety on these ships are as high as on ships carrying traditional maritime flags.

We have, I think, a right to know this, because, of course, British seamen from time to time sign on under flags of convenience. Though it now seems generally agreed that many of the ships concerned—including, I am told, the "Torrey Canyon"—are now very well found indeed, none the less from time to time we read scarifying stories about them. "Ships of easy virtue", they are still called—indeed, the Belgium Secretary of the International Transport Federation has described them as "coffins". Moreover, the trouble is not merely the manning of the ships and the living conditions or the rates of pay; it is also the certificates of proficiency sold to individuals. An English master mariner described in the Daily Telegraph last year how, for fun, he obtained a Panamanian marine engineer's certificate for £3 12s., having never watched a pressure gauge in his life. He was subsequently offered a job as chief engineer on a Panamanian vessel but declined, explaining that he had never yet gone in for manslaughter.

My Lords, these are unpleasant thoughts. To some extent, of course, the position is safeguarded by the existence of the International Transport Federation. They, through their representatives all over the world, do their best to ensure that the basic rights and decencies of the seamen are respected, and they are not ineffectual. Four ships have already been stopped this year through their efforts, no satisfactory arrangements having been made with the owners before they sailed. The ships were declared "black" and boycotted in the ports where they found themselves.

But to-day we are talking not internationally but nationally. Where do we ourselves stand in all this? We are, as it were, sailing in uncharted waters. Nobody in this country seems to know; and nobody, so far as I have yet seen in the Press, seems to care very much. But it seems clear, from the conversations I have had with the International Transport Federation, that the position throughout the world is still far from satisfactory. Ships are still sailing under flags of convenience, in which the crews have no satisfactory union protection and they are being rudely and roughly exploited. We are still seemingly no nearer to the "genuine link"—an important phrase used by the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calde.


My Lords, the noble Earl realises, I hope, that what he has just been saying cannot possibly apply to British ships.


Surely, your Lordships would not think that any of the things I have been saying applied to British ships. Those who sail under our flag are honourably looked after and in the very best British traditions. It would not occur to me to make such a suggestion.


My Lords, I wanted to make the point that we cannot sail ships under flags of convenience. We are prohibited from doing so by the 1894 Shipping Act.


My Lords, I am not quite clear what the noble Lord is saying. But I think we are clear on one thing, at least: there is no question that anyone who sails under the Red Duster is not absolutely safe and sound. If British seamen choose to enlist, as it were, under flags of convenience that is their affair; but still we do not very much like the idea of it.

I have tried briefly and broadly, and with my usual over-simplification, to outline a position which is so complicated that it would take a whole year of study by international lawyers to discover where the rights and the wrongs lie. But I am just going to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will use every effort to ensure that this, I am afraid, sometimes immoral system of flags of convenience, which has operated for the past fifty years, may be speedily brought to an end.

I come now to something quite different, and I hope that I may have the support of your Lordships. May I ask Her Majesty's Government this one final question? Will they ensure that whatever inquiry is set up about the "Torrey Canyon", be it in Monrovia, where I am told they have no administrative facilities for this task, or in Genoa, which has also been mentioned, it will be attended by representatives of Her Majesty's Government, who are, after all, the major interested parties? Equally important, will they attempt to ensure that the inquiry will be held in public and that nothing will be hushed up or concealed? Many people, without prejudging the issue at all, do not feel at all happy about what happened to the "Torrey Canyon ". However, the important thing is that we should be repre sented either by private individuals or by Her Majesty's Government itself.

As we all know, public interest dies quickly and what concerns us so intimately at this moment will perhaps in a year or two be a "dead duck". Your Lordships may well remember the case of the Greek liner "Lakonia", which sank some four years ago, the majority of the passengers being British, and an inquiry into whose loss was terminated two years subsequently at a time when no one but those personally affected cared any more. I deeply hope that the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, and Her Majesty's Government will be able to give an assurance on this point, at least, and perhaps clarify briefly the position of Her Majesty's Government in this matter of flags of convenience.

6.47 p.m.


My Lords, I shall not detain the House for more than three or four minutes, and I hope that this important problem is not going to be complicated or prejudiced by too much argument about flags of convenience. As one who through two world wars, and in many other parts of my life, has been intimately concerned with the British mercantile marine, I cannot myself generate any enthusiasm for the practice of resorting to flags of convenience. However, that is really beside the point at this particular moment.

In this whole matter the country owes a very great deal to the enlightened approach of all British shipowners, to their readiness to observe the best possible practice in preventing oil pollution of the seas. I join with what has been said in the tributes paid to the large oil companies, who made a brilliant achievement in discovering the way out of a great technical difficulty in what is called "loading on top". I shall confine my remarks to one or two very brief points.

I think that everybody must realise that the White Paper has covered a very great deal of ground and has overlooked very little. In the particular matter of protection of birds, there has of course been an enormous loss of bird life. The humanitarian efforts to clean these birds and restore them to the sea must obviously be persevered in. But it is useless to try to disguise the fact that there is no evidence that they do survive after they have been put to sea, for the detergents used destroy their natural oils, and when they go back to the water they either drown or are quickly affected by all sorts of pneumonic diseases. Nevertheless, as I say, we must persevere in that effort, and we may get some results.

In paragraph 33 of the White Paper it is suggested that it may be necessary to move small populations of specially rare species. I have not had an opportunity of discussing that question with my ornithological friends, but personally I should be very hesitant in trying to interfere with any of the sea birds which have returned safely to their nesting cliffs. The fear is that they will be bound to go back to the sea to feed, and may then get oiled; but I should myself be disposed to leave well alone.

There is one thing, however, which I think could be done, and which I hope any spokesman of the Government who may have an opportunity to do so will mention. I have already mentioned this to various broadcasters and others. There is a practice on certain parts of our coast of boatmen rowing visitors around and deliberately disturbing the nesting birds, because it is quite a spectacle to see hundreds of birds take flight. We want the greatest possible breeding success this season, and every time that kind of disturbance takes place there is a risk of a certain number of the eggs being kicked off the ledges by the nesting birds. I am sure that the boatmen and those who control the holiday resorts where this practice may still exist would be very well advised to abandon it, at any rate for this season.

I agree with nearly all the points made by the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, as to what might be done, and I have no doubt that by international agreement a great deal can be done to reduce the risk of collision by requiring ships to follow particular lanes. Indeed, I should have thought that it was imperative that that should he done without delay for ships of 100,000 tons or over. But the great difficulty, I think, is to deal with accidents at sea, whether in territorial waters or outside them—accidents which are bound to happen, and which may become more frequent. That problem has already disturbed a good many other countries. In recent years there has been more than one serious collision in the Baltic, with great emissions of oil and very great damage.

When I was at an international conference at Lucerne in the summer, this point was raised by the representative of West Germany, who said that he thought it was imperative that some power should be taken by international agreement to require a ship in difficulty to accept help from the appropriate naval or other authorities, whether the master wanted to do so or not. Anyone connected with shipping must know that it might be dangerous and very difficult to deprive the master of a ship of the discretion to do what he thought necessary for the safety of his ship, its cargo and its crew. But if a master is in difficulty, he naturally wants to consult his owners, the owners naturally want to consult their underwriters, and a good deal of time may elapse before drastic action, which may he obviously necessary, is taken.

It is therefore, I suggest, very urgent that Governments should consider whether some power should not be vested in the country whose shores are nearest to the accident to require the master to accept certain forms of help. For example, if the accident took place in Baltic waters, where there is very little tide and very little sea, but where ships can still break up, it might be quite easy to pump the oil into another ship. If a master declined to do that when the appropriate authorities thought it was the right way to prevent danger to their own shores, then perhaps there ought to be the power to compel him. I think that is one of the most urgent and important questions.

Though of course I accept what is said in the White Paper, that on this occasion legal difficulties did not hamper action, it is very easy to conceive of circumstances in which legal action would either hamper or delay preventive action which could well be taken. I agree that the right way to deal with that is to have an urgent meeting of I.M.C.O., and here again I believe that the Government, with the help of Denmark and other countries, have already taken action to convene an early meeting. The wheels of I.M.C.O. grind, but they grind slowly, and I think some special action ought to be taken to bring this issue to a head at a very early date.

My Lords, I will not say anything more. What I said in 1953, which the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, was good enough to quote, I felt very deeply and very genuinely at the time, and I only regret that I was being more prophetic than I thought, at that moment.

6.56 p.m.


My Lords, with permission, I will reply as briefly as I can to the many interesting points that have been raised. I think a good deal of the debate has ranged in more detail over matters which the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, I myself or the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, raised only in passing. But I am sure your Lordships would wish me to congratulate the right reverend Prelate on what I can only describe as (to use his own phrase) a very well oiled maiden speech. I am sure that he will enliven us very much in the future, and I hope he will take the wish expressed, that he will frequently speak to us, as a genuine one, even if it is only to give us the latest news on oil pollution in Cornwall. I should like to ask him whether that delectable beach at Porthcothan is seriously affected. I fear it may indeed be so.


If I may be allowed to answer, my Lords, the cove at Bairn Beach is slightly contaminated, but they were cleaning it yesterday.


I am delighted to hear it. It is the safest surfing beach in that particular area. At the same time, in return for that information, I should like to tell the right reverend Prelate that the latest information on the damage to fishing is really very encouraging. There is, indeed, very little evidence of damage, either to deep-sea fishing or to shell fish, lobsters and crabs. Of course, the commercial season of the latter is only just beginning, but divers have been down and they have discovered nothing untoward. In fact, I was told yesterday that only one dead lobster had been found, but I would not suggest for one moment that more damage will not be done. It would appear, however, that fishing is being resumed and is almost normal, and we hope the favourable situation will continue. There is really no positive reason to suppose that it may not continue to be favourable.

I would make only one further remark. I am even more astonished by what the right reverend Prelate said—I could scarcely credit it, but I am really obliged, I think, to credit it—that the naval correspondent of a newspaper could seriously believe that Camborne and Redruth had been lapped by oil. One might as well say Bodmin Moor. That seems to be part and parcel of the really astonishing degree of speculation and inaccuracy that has gone on. It is always very dangerous to lecture the Press—they greatly dislike our criticising them, however much they may criticise us—but I really think some of them might do a little heart-searching on their performance over the "Torrey Canyon".

The noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, asked a great many questions. Let me deal first with those points where he rather carefully said he was speaking from his Front Bench, by which I felt he was holding up a blue flag to say: "Don't worry boys; I have got to make a Party political noise."


My Lords, I can assure the noble Lord that it was not a flag of convenience.


I think it really was a flag of truce. I shall leave it to the other place to deal with Mr. Heath's performance and the minatory noises that were uttered. Even now, I think it would have been gracious to have made some congratulatory noises at the national effort—which really does include the Government—and I welcome those noble Lords who paid a tribute. I can only say that the criticisms were pretty thin when all he could do was to refer to Mr. Foley. Of course, it is possible to take a particular statement out of context. This was said at a very early stage. It was perfectly accurate; and I do not find it inconsistent with what the Government did. The Government, in fact, said and made it clear in the White Paper that neither legal nor financial considerations inhibited Government action at any stage. The fact that at that early stage Mr. Foley (at a time when they hoped to salvage the ship) made his statement clearly did not bind Government policy; and the Government took the best action possible.

I think I shall not go very deeply into the subject of flags of convenience, beyond saying that I was deeply interested in what was said by both my noble friend Lord Ritchie-Calder and the noble Earl, Lord Arran, who is such a thorough and, at times, unexpected researcher into the esoteric. But now that it is settled that there is going to be this Inquiry, I think it best that we wait for the results. But I would say, in relation to this and in view of the anxieties that have been expressed, that an observer of Her Majesty's Government in the person of Captain E. W. Lewis, a Professional Officer and Chief Nautical Surveyor of the Board of Trade, did attend. The Board have completed the first stage of the investigation and will be reporting to the Liberian Government in the near future. It is expected that there will be a further stage. I will only say—and I ask noble Lords not to press me—that the matters which the noble Earl raised in regard to the inquiry are very much in the Government's mind.

My Lords, I shall not discuss the noble Earl's Select Committee. This was another part of the strategic withdrawal—I will not say "the flag of truce"—but I agree with him that there are lessons to be learned, and lessons of importance. I should certainly hope that these will be made available, and I will certainly convey the obvious wishes of your Lordships' House that the lessons which have been learned so far are published as fully as possible.

Some interesting points were raised with regard to future action to be taken in regard to accidents outside territorial waters. There is no doubt of the determination of the Government to deal with this particular menace. But it is a very hypothetical question and I think it would be unwise for me at the moment (where one would be embarking on or entangling oneself in very difficult legal questions) to make any general statement as to the criteria that will be applied. But it is quite obvious that the menaces that are involved—and my noble friend Lord Ritchie-Calder gave examples—are of a kind that behove Governments and publics to face the fact that with the advance and for the survival of civilisation we are compelled to impose more and more restrictions on our activities. It is a sad thing in terms of freedom; but even greater freedom is menaced. These are clearly matters which will have to be considered by the appropriate United Nations organisations. I am quite sure I.M.C.O. is the place to begin. The initiative that has been taken by the Government will, I think, get the thing on to the international table as quickly as possible. But there will be matters to be discussed which are not within the scope of responsibility of I.M.C.O., and there are certain subjects relating to the law of the sea and other questions that have been raised in this House on which it may not be possible even for I.M.C.O. to make recommendations. But at least we can get it out and see where we are going from there.

My Lords, a number of specific questions were asked and I will deal with them as quickly as possible. First, I mentioned Greece because Greece has already—although only recently—accepted the 1954 Convention and the Amendments. In fact the instruments of acceptance were deposited only about a week or ten days ago. Portugal has also accepted the Convention. What the noble Lord had to say about Russia is true. We should like to see Russia accept the Convention. They are a helpful member of I.M.C.O. and provide very good facilities in their ports for reception of residue from oil tankers. But Greece and Portugal are already numbered among the 34 countries, as is the Ivory Coast that I had already mentioned. It is expected that the Council will meet on May 4 and 5, and the Assembly of I.M.C.O. is due to meet in the Autumn and will be asked to approve a resolution inviting all countries to accept the Convention. I think I dealt with the difficulties of enforcement in my opening speech.

There was a particular point with regard to the Straits of Dover. The system for routing of traffic in the Dover Strait comes into force next month. The navigational aids will be moved into position this month, and it is expected that this one-way routing system will be in force in May or June, at the latest. I must stress that it is not mandatory; it is a recommended system to all ships' masters. But failure to observe the procedure will doubtless be taken into account in any inquiry into a collision. There will not be formal control nevertheless it is an advance.

Her Majesty's Government will be taking up with I.M.C.O. the question of changing International Law to enable a State to take action if its shores are threatened by a shipping accident. We shall also be raising the question of third-party risks. It is not quite clear where it is appropriate to do so: it may be necessary, in the first instance to raise it in I.M.C.O. There is no doubt, as the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, made clear, that another conference to amend the international law of the sea may well be overdue. We shall be taking up this matter with the appropriate international bodies.


My Lords, since the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, appears to have left the navigation aspect of this matter, I would ask him to revert to one of my previous questions: whether the Government will be supporting the idea, which has now been mooted by the Working Group and supported by I.M.C.O., of the separation of traffic in other congested sea lanes, especially round the European seaboard?


My Lords, I am sorry that I have not got the answer to that question, but I will see that it is taken into account, and I shall be glad to answer the noble Lord, either by letter or by way of question and answer. I shall not be able to answer all the interesting points which have been raised; nor I am afraid, despite the helpful notice which noble Lords have given me, have I the answers to all the particular points which have been raised.

I noted what the noble Lord had to say about fines. As I say, there is no limit on indictment, but the fines do not seem very high. I think that it would perhaps be unwise for me to comment on this matter in the presence of the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack. I do not doubt that this is a matter to which some consideration can be given.

Perhaps I might say a word here on legal action with regard to the owners. On March 31 the Treasury Solicitor wrote to the solicitors acting for the owners of the vessel informing them that he had been instructed by Her Majesty's Government to give notification of a claim for damages and compensation for the expenditure occasioned or incurred in consequence of the discharge or escape from the "Torrey Canyon" of large quantities of oil which subsequently drifted on to the nearby shores of the Southern Counties of England, and the Scilly Isles. The Treasury Solicitor has also been in touch with the owners' solicitors for further details of the registered address and the directors and shareholders of the Barracuda Tanker Corporation. It is possible that they may, in fact, be within Burmudan jurisdiction.

The action will be against those liable for the negligence of the master and crew and I will not comment, beyond expressing the astonishment which noble Lords have already evinced about the nature of this particular accident. Under English law, those responsible can be held liable to compensate for damage those in respect of whom they had a duty to take care, and this could include, if the case was made good, the owners of the foreshore and other property adjoining the seas, as well as Her Majesty's Government who have incurred very large expenses as a result of negligence. But it might be very difficult to prove that those responsible had a duty of care to private individuals such as boarding-house keepers, holidaymakers or fishermen who suffered financial loss. I will not go far into the question of compensation which is fraught with difficulties and sharp rocks.

The action could be brought in the English courts, provided that a writ could be served within the jurisdiction upon a ship owned by the persons liable or upon the person, the company itself. This may well prove difficult in this case, but the action might be brought in Bermuda or Liberia, or perhaps in America, if an action can be brought against the charterers. If the action were brought in this country the plaintiff would be the Attorney General. If the action were brought in an English court, there would be, under the Merchant Shipping Act 1894, a limitation of liability to about £1¼ million; and it appears that there is a similar limitation in other countries. I should not like to say what the effect of this would be on particular parcels of compensation, but I thought that your Lordships might be interested at least to have that amount of information; making clear, of course, that in this matter an action would be brought under the municipal law of the country, and there would not, so far as I can see, be any redress against the State, because —well, I think perhaps I will not go more into the international legal subject.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, referred to the toxicity of detergents. I think it is clear from the published reports that the Government had given very careful consideration to the best way in which to disperse the oil. The noble Lord knows far better than I do the effect of an emulsifying agent in the circumstances. Certainly regard has been had to the toxicity. There were some rather exaggerated claims made on television for a particular proprietary brand. It was suggested that the Government had been very "stingy" in not buying this particular detergent, on the grounds that it would destroy 200 times its weight of oil; that it was non-toxic to marine life and non-toxic to humans. Tests carried out at Warren Springs Laboratory suggested that it was only four times more effective than the principal agents that Her Majesty's Government and the local authorities were using; but it was extremely toxic, because it contained between 30 and 40 per cent. of carbon tetrachloride whose vapour is toxic to humans at a concentration above ten parts in a million, quite apart from its damage to wild life. So I can assure noble Lords —and I think that it has been apparent all along—that the authorities have at all times had the greatest consideration for the effect on wild life.

This, of course, is very much a tribute to the work of those like the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb (it is interesting that three members of this Advisory Committee should have taken part in this debate) and the really remarkable achievements of the officers of that body. Although we have either had or have an interest in this subject, some tribute ought to be paid to the work of people like Miss Barclay Smith and others who have been responsible for creating an understanding of these matters.

My Lords, I am still a little mystified about the subject of the Solent Protection Society. I can only say to the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, and to my noble friend Lord Huntingdon that we were exceedingly interested in what they had to say, and in the vital importance of pre serving that most wonderful of areas which is indeed worthy to be a National Park on its own. I can only suggest that the Solent Protection Society should get in touch with the Portsmouth operations centre. I should have thought the centre would already have contacted the Solent Protection Society, but if they have not, this will be made known. Of course, as the noble Lord realises, the operations centre has been in touch with the Nature Conservancy and other bodies.

I was particularly interested in the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, about an international task force for emergency action. It may well be that there are voices crying in the wilderness for some co-operative and civilised approach to the survival of mankind, and of all life, within an environment which in certain respects becomes ever more dangerous. I can do no more than say that the Government will take note of what the noble Lord has said. I do not think that he should despair too much. We do progress in these matters. We heeded some of the words of the noble Lord and others, and consideration has already been given to something along the lines of this proposal, which is one of a number of useful and interesting ideas.

The United Nations have a fund on which the Secretary General can draw, but only to alleviate natural disasters for which no human agency can be held responsible. But these institutions are growing. It may be that the "Torrey Canyon" may make people more aware of these dangers. Certainly it has given rise in this country to a great flood of volunteers and a greater appreciation of the public of bodies like the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. I hope that the actual damage which the "Torrey Canyon has done will be speedily removed, and that there may be some residual benefit in a greater understanding of this problem and in a greater willingness to take action.


My Lords, before the debate concludes, I should like to correct the noble Lord on one point. I was rather mystified to hear him reproach me for not having paid tribute to the national effort. I think that when he reads Hansard to-morrow morning, he will see that I paid, and was very glad to pay, tribute to all concerned—Services, volunteers, scientists and local authorities, and that I was careful to give credit where credit was due to the Government.


My Lords, of course I apologise. I must say that it was one of the most careful and guarded tributes to the Government that he could possibly have given, but none the less we are grateful even for that.


My Lords, I think your Lordships will agree that we have had a very constructive debate, and that the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, has given us a great deal of information. I much appreciate the very extended way in which he has replied to the debate. He said that much remains to be done. With Her Majesty's Government's assurance that every effort will be made to extend the provisions of the Maritime Convention, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, with-drawn.