HL Deb 20 May 1974 vol 351 cc1288-301

5.2 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. Your Lordships will recall that a Bill under this Title was discussed at some length in this House last Session. Since then this Dumping at Sea Bill has been introduced into another place and is in substantially the same form as the earlier Bill. Your Lordships will recall that the earlier Bill went through all its stages in your Lordships' House but received only a First Reading in the other place. The position to-day is that the Bill has been through all its stages in another place and comes here to-day for its Second Reading. A number of comparatively minor amendments have been made as a result of further consultations with the British Ports Association and, with your Lordships' permission. I shall describe these changes as I go through the Bill.

The Government are very pleased that the discussions on this Bill have indicated complete agreement in principle that it is desirable for statutory backing to be provided for the control of dumping at sea. Progress on the Bill in the other place has been rapid and the Government are grateful to the Opposition for their co-operation in this matter.

The Bill is essentially a technical and non-controversial measure. Its purpose, as has been made clear in another place, is to provide statutory backing for the voluntary control arrangements which have been operating in Great Britain for about seven years. Perhaps more importantly, it will enable the United Kingdom to ratify the Oslo and London Conventions to control dumping and thus we shall be seen to play our full part in this important sphere. The Bill will enable the United Kingdom to maintain oversight of dumping with a view to protecting our major fishing industry. I should mention that the Oslo Convention, which is designed to control dumping in the North-East Atlantic and the North Sea, came into force on April 7 after it had been ratified by seven countries. That adds force to what I have said about the desirability of the United Kingdom being in a position to ratify the Convention itself. I should like to reiterate that in the meantime the United Kingdom is acting in relation to its dumping controls as if it had already ratified the Oslo Convention.

During the discussions on the Bill it has become clear that there is some doubt about the scope of the legislation now before your Lordships and its relationship to other legislation—I refer in particular to the separate Bill dealing with the Control of Pollution and the work of the Intergovernmental Maritime Consultative Organisation. Before I turn to the detailed provisions of the Bill, and I hope your Lordships will allow me to be brief, it might be helpful if I say that the pipeline discharges are not the subject of the Dumping at Sea Bill. These fall within the ambit of the Control of Pollution Bill which the House is currently examining. Ship discharges other than dumping, namely, the disposal of garbage, oil and other material which may be regarded as part of the normal operation of a vessel, are subject to the Intergovernmental Maritime Consultative Organisation arrangements, and particularly the recently negotiated Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships. This Convention specifically states that it does not cover dumping at sea which is now the subject of the Bill before your Lordships.

The Government are well aware of the need for a co-ordinated approach to all these problems. Nevertheless, each separate aspect of control should be left with those authorities qualified to deal with them. That is the approach we have adopted, and I would suggest that it is the only practical one. However, your Lordships may be assured that administrative steps have been taken, and will continue to be taken, to ensure the closest co-operation between the different authorities responsible for the application of the varying powers under each heading.

Returning to the Dumping at Sea Bill, I should like to underline a point which has already been made in past discussions. The Minister of Agriculture for England and Wales, the Secretary of State for Scotland, and the Department of the Environment in Northern Ireland, are those Ministers who are the licensing authorities under this Bill. These Ministers will be very flexible in their approach as regards the issue of licences. I ought to make it quite clear that it is no part of the Government's policy to make difficulties for people going about their normal business. The intention is to secure a reasonable oversight of what finds its way into the sea by means of dumping, and to control it, where necessary, either in the interests of the marine environment or—and perhaps this is the same thing—to conform with the terms of the Control of Dumping Conventions. There are two rather important dumping conventions; namely, the Oslo Convention and the London Convention.

Your Lordships will probably be familiar with the details of each of these clauses in the Bill as the Bill in roughly its present form was published last November, but I hope it will be helpful if I run quickly through the more important provisions. Clauses 1 and 2 are the most important provisions in the Bill and constitute its heart. Clause 1 provides that dumping in the sea or loading in British ports shall not take place without a licence from the licensing authorities. Clause 2 sets out in broad terms the licensing arrangements and the criteria which will be applied in issuing licences. We have deliberately avoided including in the Bill the detailed provisions of the Conventions, which are contained in their annexes. There is good reason for this. Much of the scientific knowledge necessary to control the marine environment is still being developed. Therefore, it would be a very inflexible arrangement to incorporate specific provisions relating to details of substances in the Statute itself. We think that the approach adopted in Clause 2, coupled with the arrangements for amending the annexes included in the conventions themselves, is the best way to approach this matter.

Before leaving Clauses 1 and 2, I should mention that in another place the Government proposed Amendments which had the effect of removing from dumping controls discharges from vessels which are adapted specifically for the disposal by dumping of dredgings, where those discharges are part of the normal operations of those vessels when not engaged in dumping. Another small change was the exclusion from the controls of such minor items which do not pollute, as moorings, navigational aids and day-to-day repairs and maintenance in harbours.

Clause 2 provides for the payment of fees for licences. As was stated in another place, these will be on a very modest scale, merely to cover the administrative overheads of issuing them, together with the undertaking of toxicity tests where necessary. Where a major industrial discharge takes place and specific monitoring is required a further fee may be charged, but this will not be of very frequent occurrence and is something which would be determined in the light of the circumstances of the proposed dumping.

Clause 3 deals with the rights of licensees, or would-be licensees, to make representations against proposed decisions by the authorities. The procedure for this has been agreed by the Council on Tribunals, who have said that it is reasonable and provides every safeguard against oppressive actions being taken by the licensing authorities. The procedure will allow for speedy hearings to take place. The decisions taken by the Minister concerned and the advice on which they were taken will be made available to the applicant. I should emphasise that the committees listening to representations and making recommendations to licensing authorities will be entirely independent in forming, a view on the issues referred to them. Panels of persons concerned with the interests of licensees are being drawn up, and membership of the committee will be drawn from those considered appropriate.

When the Bill was last before your Lordships' House, there was considerable discussion on the rights of the public to know what was going on under the provisions of this Bill. As a result, Clause 4 was formulated. As your Lordships will see, this would enable any member of the public, be he an expert or merely a private citizen, to see the register of particulars of substances for which dumping licences have been issued. In the light of this information, any person would be able to reach his own conclusions on the actions taken. We think this will provide the most realistic approach, because it will provide any interested person with an overall picture of what is happening in the sea around our coasts.

Clause 5 provides for the establishment of an enforcement inspectorate. As the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum to the Bill makes clear, this will be on a very modest scale and will rely substantially on staff already in post for other purposes. On the other hand, the Government are confident that enforcement will be effective at the level necessary to ensure that the terms of the Bill are being complied with. In other words, we think the Bill provides for the right balance between too large a staff and an effective inspectorate. Some attention was paid in another place to the powers of the enforcement officers. As the Government have made clear, we think these are adequate and do not go too far in interfering with the normal business of individuals.

Clause 6 provides a valuable complement to these powers. It would permit the United Kingdom to enter into an agreement with one or more other countries under which there would be reciprocal powers of inspection of vessels on the high seas. As the clause makes clear, before such an arrangement was entered into an Order would be laid before Parliament so that the arrangements could be examined. I should like to take the opportunity of emphasising that, in undertaking such arrangements as are envisaged in Clause 6, the Government would ensure that no damage was done to our very important shipping interests.

The remaining clauses in the Bill are largely procedural and, again, with your Lordships' permission, I do not propose to go into any great detail about them. I should, however, mention that at the appropriate places in the Bill provision is made for fines where the law is broken. In particular, I would direct your Lordships' attention to Clause 1, where severe penalties could be imposed for a wanton breach of the provisions of the Bill. The Government are satisfied that these are at a reasonable level to ensure that the law is respected.

I hope that my description of this small but, as I am sure your Lordships will appreciate, important Bill will have been adequate to give a reasonable view of what it contains. I am certain that its enactment will represent a substantial step forward in securing the well being of the seas around this country. I should like to conclude by saying that the Government are very pleased with the reception given to the Bill in another place. With respect, I should like to commend it to your Lordships and I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Wells-Pestell.)

5.19 p.m.


My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, for introducing this Bill and explaining its contents. As he quite rightly said, it was introduced by the previous Administration really for the purpose of ratifying the Oslo and London Conventions. Indeed, had it not been for the advent of the Election, is is probable that the Bill would have gone through and these Conventions would have been ratified. However, I am glad that the noble Lord has re-introduced the Bill to-day for this reason—though it is not the only one. We were the leaders in this sphere and it was the United Kingdom which was keen to get other countries to join in some form of co-ordination of effort on dumping at sea. Since that was the position, and as we had the Oslo and London Conventions agreed, it was appropriate that this country should be one of the first to ratify them. I understand that some other countries have already ratified these Conventions, and therefore I hope it will not be long before the United Kingdom is able to join them. Of course this is a Bill designed basically to try to keep the seas clean for fish. I believe that it is right for the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to have this responsibility because they are the people who have all the know-how about fish, currents, tides and waves, and what happens when you dump something into the sea.

It is sad that the Bill is a direct product of the sophisticated society in which we live. I do not think that it will improve the environment one little bit; it is merely essential to keep pace with the advance of research. Research is inevitable to improve our lives; the trouble is that for every advantage obtained in research, you get a host of disadvantages. One result of research is that in trying to arrive at a particular prime product you get a host of disadvantages, and sometimes noxious items which need to be disposed of. The difficulty is where to dispose of them. Very often, as happens now, they are disposed of in the sea. I remember only a short while ago a great deal of concern being expressed because fish off the coast of Japan were found to have in them an excess of mercury. If they were eaten the mercury was passed into human beings. All this resulted from effluent discharged from factories in Japan. So it is right that we should have some form of control over what is dumped into the sea.

I remember, too, on an occasion about fifteen years ago, having the privilege of looking around Calder Hall in Cumberland. This was when the power station was first started up. One saw the whole factory process, as is were, and the mechanisation of it. The electricity that was produced was put into the grid. We were shown finally a glass case into which a rubber glove was fitted. You could put your hand in the rubber glove and pick up something which looked like a pink tennis ball but which weighed about twice that size of a ball of lead. The person showing us around said, "We are aiming for this". I think it was plutonium. Everything else, including the electricity that was manufactured, was incidental to the production of plutonium. That was the aim of that particular power station; it could well have been the by-product of a factory, and it could well have been a by-product which would have to be disposed of in some form. It is quite right that the Government should take powers to see that when something is disposed of in the sea it should be dealt with in such a way as not adversely to affect either the marine environment or our own environment.

Only a short while ago there occurred a case where a herbicide found its way into some water. Many miles downstream it killed tomato plants. I believe I am right in saying the concentration required for this was one part in 1,000 million. It so happened that the tomato plants were particularly susceptible to this substance. This shows that in this day and age when you get these sophisticated products one minute proportion can cause a great deal of trouble. It is right that we should take the correct steps to prevent this from affecting us.

I often wonder where research gets one; I suppose it gets one somewhere. I remember the words that the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, used on one occasion—I will try to quote him accurately. I cannot use his delightful Welsh rhetoric or enthusiasm, but the blasphemy is his. He said that he felt the situation was like being in a train and that we were thundering downhill, going God knows where. He felt that we were sitting in the caboose looking backwards. That is one's feeling regarding research: one does not know where one is going, yet one is being thundered along in the so-called progress of society. The noble Lord was using that description in order to castigate the Government of the day over some particular form of economic policy with which he happened to disagree. The fact is it could also apply here with regard to research.

The whole point of this Bill is concerned to see that if we have these curious, hideous and dangerous byproducts, then we have international control over the way they are dumped. We have made very great progress in this respect by having these Conventions, and this Bill will enable us as a country to play our part and to ratify them. There has been a voluntary control, and it has worked well. This Bill will do little more than make that voluntary control statutory. We have been leaders in international co-operation over this matter, and I hope we will remain leaders in this particular sphere.

I noticed one point which seemed slightly curious: I would only draw attention to it, and I do not ask the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, to give me an answer now if he would prefer not to do so. When the Bill introduced by the previous Administration left your Lordships' House it seemed to be in reasonable order, or so we thought. I would draw attention to Clause 5 because it refers to how the Act will be enforced. In the old Bill Clause 5(8) referred to the powers which should be given to a person in regard to boarding a ship. Subsection (9) went on to say how the enforcement officer should have communications with the master. Subsection (10) indicated what powers he should have regarding opening the tins which he might suspect contained some noxious material.

This seems a sensible, chronological course of events; but in the new Bill before your Lordships the subsections have been changed around. Clause 5(8) refers to the powers that an officer may have in regard to opening the tins. Subsections (9) and (10) indicate what powers he should have regarding the stopping of the ship and speaking to the master. That seems a curious set of circumstances. One would have thought the previous arrangement of clauses was much more suitable. We might possibly refer to this point at a later date to see whether we can swop the subsections around to get them back in order again. Having been in the right order, there must be a good reason for having reversed them, and I should like to know the reason.

Throughout the Bill the onus is on whoever is going to dump something to show that the material is not offensive or toxic in order to get a licence. The onus is also on that person to pay for the monitoring of the sea, or the results of his dumping, should that be necessary. Nobody likes to pay, but in this case, where you have possibly a new, untried or sophisticated material which is going to be dumped, the person who is responsible for dumping it should be the person responsible for paying to see that nobody is affected. My Lords, I welcome this Bill and I hope that your Lordships will approve it.

5.30 p.m.


My Lords, this Bill is one which must be welcomed in its present form, as it was in the earlier form. It is a Bill of extreme importance, because the problem of dumping is a serious one from the point of view of pollution in the seas—certainly the seas which neighbour us, and in fact it is a problem for the world as a whole.

There are certain points on which I should like to have more clarification. The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, referred to putting the cart before the horse with regard to Clause 5, subsections (8) and (9). I do not know whether it matters a great deal, but he may well be right and it would be better if they were the other way round. I am less concerned with matters such as that—no doubt those who draft Bills are fully aware of what they are trying to do—than I am with the bigger question as to whether the actual machinery for ensuring that this Bill will be operated is fully adequate. I believe I raised this matter when the Bill was introduced earlier.

In the Preamble to the Bill, under Financial Effects, there is reference to the amount of money which would be required for this Bill to be operated. It reads: It is not possible to estimate these costs accurately, but we do not expect the total annual expenditure on these items to exceed £10,000. I think that is the same sum—the noble Earl will correct me if I am wrong that was mentioned in the earlier Bill. I wondered then, and I wonder again now, whether £10,000 is an adequate sum. It is a question of what one means by the expense. There is a great deal of reference in the Bill to the enforcement officers. How many enforcement officers will there be? If the £10,000 is supposed to cover the cost of enforcement officers, it will not cover very many and there are a great many places in the country—many ports and small harbours—from which ships can sail. The question is: what is really the Government's intention with regard to the enforcement of this Bill? It seems to me that if it is to be properly enforced one has to have a large number of inspectors.

There are already complaints, with regard to air pollution, that our Alkali Inspectorate, excellent as I believe it is, is inadequate in numbers to carry out sufficient control over the whole country. Is it the intention of the Government to ensure that, as a result of this Bill when it becomes law, there will be an adequate inspectorate to ensure that there will be proper enforcement?

Although it is quite easy to say that we do not wish to have dumping at sea, there are many sorts of dumping. There can be dumping on a small scale, and as the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, has just said a very small quantity dumped may have a serious polluting effect. It is possible that a single case thrown overboard may have a quite serious effect on the environment of the sea, so therefore it is quite important that we have this properly controlled. I believe that at the present time there is considerable concern about what is happening in the Bristol Channel with regard to the plastic spherules which apparently are being found there. These are things which can easily come from manufacture. They can come from actions, perhaps not deliberate, from ships—it may be through carelessness. It is therefore highly important that when we have such a Bill, which I strongly support and believe is absolutely vital for the future preservation of our environment, we should have proper enforcement. I should be grateful if my noble friend could say something about this.

5.34 p.m.


My Lords, I had not intended to speak on this Bill but it is a very important subject and there are one or two questions which I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell. As I understood him, the purpose of this Bill is to give Her Majesty's Government the opportunity to ratify the Oslo and London Conventions. I should like to ask, first, how many States are in process of ratifying these Conventions or, in other words, how many Convention States are there at the present time? It is highly important, because it may well be that, as my noble friend Lord Ferrers said, we are taking a lead and may be the first country to ratify these Conventions. The provisions of Clause 1 are extremely important: …no person, except in pursuance of a licence—

  1. (a) shall dump substances or articles in United Kingdom waters; or
  2. (b) shall dump substances or articles in the sea outside United Kingdom waters from a British ship, aircraft, hovercraft or marine structure…"
It seems to me highly relevant that one should get an increasing number of those countries who have coast lines to ratify these Conventions. My noble friend Lord Ferrers referred to the important question of keeping the seas unpolluted for fish, but I am wondering whether it is not also relevant to think of the Atlantic coast line of quite a number of countries and also of countries in the Mediterranean which are very much dependent on tourism and therefore would benefit by ratifying these Conventions.

In conclusion, I should like to ask Her Majesty's Government what countries are ratifying the Conventions and what steps are being taken to coerce them to do so rapidly?

5.38 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, has in fact given me time to obtain some information on the matter to which he referred, and it would appear that there is some merit in what he had to say about the order of the subsections in Clause 5. My information is that this was done merely as a matter of drafting, because Parliamentary Counsel thought that the old Clause 5(10) was better placed as Clause 5(8) since the powers available to enforcement officers were better described earlier in the clause. I think one has to admit that no deep thought has been given to this aspect. In the presence of the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, I suppose one could say that lawyers work in a mysterious way their wonders to perform, and it is not always very clear as to why they have arrived at their conclusions. This is a matter which we could possibly look at afresh, to see whether it might be worth while putting the subsections back in the order in which they were originally. I hope the noble Earl will not mind if I do not give an undertaking in this regard but merely say that we will look at it.

With regard to the point raised by my noble friend Lord Wynne-Jones, my understanding of the position is that the £10,000 does not refer to the cost of enforcement officers but only to Clause 11(a)(b) and (c) of the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum of the Bill, which reads:

  1. "(a) subscriptions to those international bodies dealing with control of dumping in the sea of which the United Kingdom is a member;
  2. (b) the fees payable to members of the representations committees and the costs of the staff serving them;
  3. (c) other incidental expenses arising under the Bill".
I think that perhaps it might help my noble friend if I were to say that this matter has been examined carefully and while there will be, I think I am right in saying, only six additional inspectors, that number is considered adequate in view of the fact that the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food have a large number of inspectors who are inspecting the fishing on the sea, and they themselves will be able to exercise a measure of inspection and investigation so far as ships are concerned. So it is felt that the provision made is an adequate one in the circumstances.


My Lords, will my noble friend forgive my interrupting him on that point? I can see that this matter has been thought about, but is it really possible for the normal fishery inspectors to see what is going on in the case of ships which have nothing to do with fishing at all? I should have thought there was a risk that they would find out about the whole matter only long after the pollution had taken place.


My Lords, this matter has been considered very carefully. I take my noble friend's point, but my information is that, while the inspectors are engaged on inspection of another kind, they are well aware of a good deal that is going on and is likely to go on so far as other ships are concerned. With the greatest respect, I would suggest that if this does not work out satisfactorily when it is in operation obviously something can be done about it then; but this matter has been gone into carefully, and I would have thought that perhaps it is something which could be left to take its course in order to see whether it does in fact produce the desired results.

If I may come to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Merrivale, as far as the Oslo Convention is concerned this came into force on April 7 last, and in fact seven States have ratified it. There are still a number to do so. I will not read them all out, but I believe that there are something like 12 or 13. We hope to do so immediately this Bill is through; and, as I pointed out to your Lordships, we have in fact been carrying this out for the last seven years. Six countries have ratified the London Convention, which is global in extent, and 15 countries are to do so when it comes into force. The London Convention was attended by a good many countries; and, as I said, six countries have ratified this convention. I hope that answers the noble Lord.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I mention the point that I tried to make. Were these conventions, either the Oslo one or the London one, attended by countries which have Atlantic coastlines, and also Mediterranean coastlines; and can the noble Lord say, particularly from the point of view of controlling pollution from tourists, whether such countries have ratified these conventions?


My Lords, I think that what I shall have to do, if the noble Lord will allow me, is to look at his question and give him a written reply. Looking at the London Convention, I see that there is a large number of countries and I cannot say offhand whether they fall into the particular category which he has mentioned.

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