HL Deb 27 July 1978 vol 395 cc1005-55

5.57 p.m.

The Earl of KINNOULL rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what national and international arrangements are being made for the better protection of our shares against oil pollution and tighter control of our shipping lanes; and what compensation is available to local authorities and individual businesses that have been affected. The noble Earl said: My Lords, I feel that my first duty is to apologise to the House, and to those who were due to take part on the last occasion when the debate was put down, for my unavoidable absence on that occasion. I should like to thank Her Majesty's Government and, in particular, the Deputy Chief Whip, for making it possible to hold this debate today in what is always a difficult period in the Session. My relief in being in my place on this occasion on time was only matched by the zealous attention that I had inadvertently attracted from the Opposition Chief Whip, whose enthusiasm for discipline among his Back-Benchers of course is renowned. May I also thank in advance all those noble friends and noble Lords who have indicated their intention to speak and who will add greatly to the value of the debate. I should like to mention particularly the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, whose very wide commercial experience in shipping and indeed running the port of London Docks for over 20 years gives great value to his words. Finally, I should like to welcome my noble friend Lord Buxton, who has chosen this occasion to make his maiden speech. My noble friend is serving on the Royal Commission on Pollution and has done so for the past five years. We are all looking forward to what he has to say.

The purpose of my Unstarred Question tonight is not to hold a post-mortem on the "Amoco Cadiz", which is still subject to an inquiry and indeed is sub iudice. It is to express yet again a growing anxiety and increasing impatience felt by many people at the apparent lack of positive Government control on oil pollution around our shores, and the lack of enforceable protective measures to minimise the possibility of further tanker collisions. The subject is wide ranging and I expect to cover less than 10 per cent., leaving plenty of room for other noble Lords to follow.

The control of sea pollution around our shores is a subject about which neither House of Parliament could be accused of complacency. In another place the Sub-Committee on Expenditure is at present taking evidence on the measures to prevent collisions around our coasts. In this House our last debate was initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, last January. The noble Lord's knowledge and work outside the House—he is chairman of the Advisory Committee on Pollution of the Sea—is well recognised. His debate was timed just before one of the now frequent international meetings and conferences called by IMCO: I think on that occasion it was demanded rather than called by America.

That debate covered the precise area of tanker safety and pollution prevention. It is perhaps tragic that that debate had almost a prophetic ring about it because since then our seas have suffered two major tanker collisions. First, there was the "Amoco Cadiz", which brought about the largest spillage of oil the world has seen, of over 220,000 tons of oil, which caused havoc on the Brittany coast and in parts of the Channel Islands. Then there was the "Eleni V", which caused havoc on over 50 miles of the coast of Suffolk. I do not think anyone would disagree, and certainly not the Government, that on the subject of sea collisions Britain has at its very front door a unique and special problem as regards the water round our Southern coasts: I refer, of course, to the Channel.

It is unique because the Channel has now become one of the busiest shipping straits in the world, and it is special in that it is now used by no fewer than six giant tankers a day, carrying oil, liquid gas or some other substance. Its record of accidents is unhappily bad, and I think it could he described as somewhat of a black spot for tanker collisions. I am told that traffic in the Channel is parallel to conditions, in motoring terms, in Piccadilly Circus during the rush-hour but, unlike Piccadilly Circus, there are no enforceable shipping lanes and no enforceable speed limits, although, as the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, pointed out to me before this debate, tankers take five miles to stop. There are no MOT tests on a ship's equipment and there are no enforceable standards of crew training. Of course, we know that 80 per cent. of accidents occur through human error and we know that IMCO and the various member countries have been discussing these points, but as things stand today there is no enforceable law. Despite the density of shipping in the Channel and the now daily danger of collision, the Government's policy sticks doggedly to the powers of protection and control afforded to them under international laws, while at the same time the Government are pursuing with the French voluntary controls which have been shown to have very brittle teeth.

What are the powers granted under international law to the Government, and what are these international powers of protection for the Channel? I think everyone—certainly everyone taking part in this debate—knows that the powers are very limited. IMCO has been struggling for years to strengthen them, and committee after committee has made recommendations. Regular conferences have been called and agreements have been reached on training and standards in regard to ships. But the vital stage of ratification by member States to put into effect the law, is slow and tortuous. I am told that it takes on average eight years for a law to be ratified from the stage of its being agreed by IMCO. By that time, events have very often overtaken the purpose behind a law. That is what we rely on principally: the enforcement of control of shipping around our coasts. Surely, with the bitter experience of the "Amoco Cadiz" and the "Eleni V" in one year, one must seriously question whether the slow process of up-dating international law through IMCO is any longer acceptable in conditions such as those which exist in the Channel.

What have other countries done about similar sensitive waters? Some years ago, Canada took unilateral action to protect her Arctic waters. Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore are at present taking concerted action to protect the Malacca Straits, an area of water which is far less busy than the Channel. Both these precedents have neither called forth reprisals nor weakened international law, and both have been accepted as special cases, I suggest. Britain and France have a special case in connection with the Channel. They have tried voluntary schemes but are powerless to enforce them or to impose penalties on ships other than those which are registered in their own countries. I strongly believe that the Government should seriously examine the possibility of taking bilateral action with France in controlling the Channel. I do not believe anyone would argue that such action would do anything but strengthen the protection against another "Amoco Cadiz" disaster.

In saying that, I am not trying to minimise the voluntary steps which both Governments have attempted to take in the last few years—the separated lanes, for example, on which my noble friend Lord Greenway will be commenting, the monitoring of ship movements by the coastguards and their French opposite numbers; but this is merely scratching the surface of the problem. If the Government remain steadfast in their policy against taking unilateral action, I hope they will consider more positive stiffening of the voluntary steps. It would help, for intance, if a start could be made to take steps to increase the limit of territorial waters from three to six miles. The French already have this. It would also help to try to reach agreement with all tanker owners that when their ships are passing through the Channel they will accept French or British pilots. It would help if ships unloading in EEC ports had to carry double-banking on equipment and steerage. It would help if the Navy were perhaps to play a more active part in patrolling, and it would help if oil companies could be persuaded not to use sub-standard tankers.

But, my Lords, what of the emergency action which the Government can take in the event of collision—is that satisfactory? If one supposes that a tanker has collided 12 miles off our shores, surely one must assume that the Government can take immediate steps. What can they do? [...] the initial stage, very little. They must wait until perhaps the Greek owner of a Panamanian-registered tanker has argued with a Dutch salvage company on the merits and the commercial viability of a contract. While that goes on, we just hope that the wind is in the right direction. It seems most inconsistent that we can claim 200 miles to conserve and protect out fishing, and yet we are powerless to act even for 12 miles off-shore to protect the same fish stocks, which could well be killed through oil pollution.

Tanker collisions are, of course, far more dramatic than the cases of deliberate oil spillage; yet, as the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, has pointed out on more than one occasion, the latter represents over 80 per cent. of oil pollution. Because of this, I find it very surprising that the Government were so deaf to the rich advocacy of the noble Lord on the vital need of retro-fitting segregated ballast tanks to existing tankers or imposing a compulsory fitting of such tanks on new tankers. I never saw, and I am not stile whether the Government ever published, their calculations and their crossed arguments. I suppose we should be grateful that IMCO recently agreed to the crude oil-washing technique as an alternative. I hope the noble Lord will be able to tell us when that will be introduced.

The second half of my Question deals with compensation. When one first looks at the compensation available to Government, local authorities or individuals, in the case of oil pollution, one is impressed that the industry, some years ago of its own accord, set up two schemes, one for the tanker operators and one for the oil companies. But like so many insurance policies, the small print has a peculiar sting in the tail, which is that you have to prove the origin of the source. To see how this works in practice, one can look at the figures published by the Advisory Committee on Pollution of the Sea in 1977. There were 432 cases of oil pollution—perhaps naturally, the heaviest were recorded on the South coast—and only a [...] could identify the source and were eligible for an insurance claim. In other words, despite a legitimate claim for damage, the hope of success under these schemes is very small, and is at present running at only 25 per cent

One poses the question: what happens with the "Eleni V"? We know that there was a lot of heavy oil sunk on the seabed, which is bound to float up from time to time. For how many years will it be floating up, and how will this insurance scheme operate? I do not think many people can be very happy with the present compensation arrangements, except perhaps the insurance companies. I hope that the industry will look again at the current schemes and be prepared, to pay any reasonable claim from a central fund, whether or not the source is identified. Compensation is particularly important when one thinks of the "Amoco Cadiz", and I hope that the noble Lord will be able to tell us what support the Government have given over the past few months, both to local authorities and to any businesses that have been severely affected.

My last question concerns the safety of liquid natural gas tankers. Ever since the horrific accident in Spain, those who know about this problem have expressed increasing concern. We know that accidents involving these ships have been reported in America and in Japan. We know what happens when there is a leak below the water level; the water turns to ice. We know what happens when there is a leak above the water level; a gas cloud forms which can be ignited by one small spark. We know that the problem is lethal. At present, tankers go in and out of the Thames Estuary every week. They are of varying sizes and shapes. Apparently, they are built to withstand a collision at 8 knots, and yet there has been a report that a tanker was seen doing 11 knots in the Thames Estuary. If ever there was a case for licensing these ships, this is it. These ships could cause a catastrophe far greater than the Spanish tragedy. Control must surely now be paramount, and I hope that the noble Lord will have something to say.

The protection of our seas against dangers from increasing pollution is today a vitally important responsibility of any Government. As I have said, I do not believe that we have a sufficient degree of protection at the moment, either under international law or under voluntary schemes which have recently been introduced. The day has surely come when we need it. We have a special problem, the Government have a special responsibility and I hope that the noble Lord's reply will assure us that they do not intend to shirk it.

6.14 p.m.

Viscount SIMON

My Lords, I feel sure that everyone in your Lordships' House is grateful to the noble Earl for asking this Question, so giving the Government the opportunity to report to your Lordships, both on the steps which have been taken or which are in contemplation to protect our shores from oil pollution, and on the present arrangements for compensation to those affected when pollution occurs; or perhaps to tell us what developments in that direction they have in mind. As the noble Earl has said, these are matters of very grave concern to the nation and to the whole population, particularly those who live near the coasts. In the case of an Unstarred Question, I always think it best for those who take part to concentrate on one or two points, and not to try to cover the whole field. I want to raise only three issues on which I hope the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, when he comes to reply, may be able to make some comment.

The first is this. On 10th July, when we debated the EEC shipbuilding proposals, the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, made a short but very powerful speech calling attention to the excessive number of sub-standard ships which are now sailing the seas; sub-standard not only in their equipment, but sub-standard in their manning. I am very sorry to see that the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, has had to withdraw from this debate, because I should have liked to hear what he had to say.

However, the question that I want to put to the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, rather picks up something which the noble Earl said in his interesting introduction. We were warned that all sorts of plans were afoot and that conventions had been agreed upon, but that it takes such a long time to bring them into force. But is it really not possible for us in this case not to act unilaterally, nor even to act in concert with our French friends, but perhaps to act in concert with all the Members of the European Economic Community and, indeed, with our Scandinavian friends who are outside the Community, and to agree among ourselves that we will not accept tankers into our ports unless they satisfy the conditions of the conventions, even though the conventions have not yet been ratified? Practically all the tankers coming up the Channel come into ports of one of those countries that I have mentioned, so why could we not say that we will not accept such tankers?

I realise that in the past we have been very unwilling to take unilateral or separate action, partly, as the noble Earl hinted, for fear of retaliation, and I was glad to hear him point out that some action of a unilateral kind has been taken elsewhere without producing the retaliation that we seem to be so frightened of. In a rather similar field, I might remind your Lordships that a small country, Iceland, succeeded in acting unilaterally as regards its fishing industry. There was precious little that we could do about it, and, eventually, we had to negotiate an agreement with Iceland on the basis of what it had done.

This would be a very much easier proposition, because we are very large importers of oil and if the countries bordering on the Channel, the North Sea and the Baltic—perhaps not so far as the Soviet Union—were to say "From a date in the near future, we will not accept ships unless they satisfy the conditions of the conventions which are now awaiting ratification", we might well find a great improvement in the position. That is the first point I wanted to put to the Government.

My second point does not really arise from what the noble Earl said, because he did not say what I thought he might say. But we sometimes hear in your Lordships' House and outside that we should bar the arrival of these very large super-tankers. On that, I must say that if there is a given quantity of oil which has to come to our refineries here and on the Continent, then if we refuse to accept very large tankers the only answer is that we shall have more ships; and if, in fairly narrow seas like the Channel and the Strait of Dover, there are more ships, then the risk of accidents is increased. When an accident occurs, it does not make much difference whether you spill 200,000 tons of oil, 100,000 tons of oil or even 70,000 tons of oil. It is still a disaster and it has to be coped with. But, on balance, I should have thought that it would be unwise to follow the idea that we should refuse to receive these very large tankers.

The third point I want to make is this. We all agree that prevention is better than cure, and prevention is what most of us have been speaking about, but I just wonder whether enough consideration and research has been undertaken into the method of dealing with accidents when they occur. I am bound to say that if every ship bringing oil into this area were well found, well manned and in perfect, tip-top condition, we should still have accidents from time to time. The sea is a fairly cruel place in which to trade. I just wonder whether we are doing enough to work out schemes for dealing with accidents when they arise.

The noble Earl touched on one point which arose very obviously in the case of the "Eleni V" The problems seem to me to fall into two categories. There are legal and administrative problems and there are technical problems. The legal and administrative problems are undoubtedly very difficult when, as the noble Earl pointed out, one can have accidents which create a real risk to our coast and to the coasts of Europe but which are outside territorial waters. This is an issue which I feel ought to be followed up. It would have to be followed up, I take it, on an international basis, but the issue might be followed up successfully on a fairly narrow basis by the countries which are so deeply concerned with it, instead of trying to reach agreement with the enormous number of countries which are members of the United Nations.

Turning to the technical problems, I just wonder whether we have really discovered what is the best way of dealing with oil spillage, either in the sea or when it comes ashore. My suggestion is that there should be extensive further research into these matters so that we can find out how these accidents can best be dealt with, if and when they occur, because I very much doubt whether we can ever hope that we shall never have an accident of this kind.

Finally, may I say a few words about something which the noble Earl said. It seemed to me that the noble Earl painted a picture of entirely irresponsible shipowners sending their ships around improperly prepared and improperly manned. He appeared to underestimate the amount of self-discipline that has been achieved by all the principal shipping countries of the world in the International Chamber of Shipping and in other bodies of that kind. A tremendous amount has been achieved.

Although these disasters—which are not, after all, so very numerous—have been quite properly described as disasters, it is quite remarkable that, compared with the amount of oil which is successfully brought up through the Channel and through the Strait of Dover (I am told that today it runs at something like 1 million tons a day) they have succeeded, by means of shipping lanes and in other ways, to reduce the amount of pollution to the figure which now exists. I do not think, therefore, that we ought to take too gloomy a view. Nevertheless, I think that there is something that we can do here. If we could get together with all our friends on the Continent to bring into force within our own ports the terms of the conventions which we are waiting to be ratified, that in itself would surely be a spur to ratification.

6.25 p.m.


My Lords, may I express my sincere appreciation of your Lordships' indulgence on this occasion. I should also like to thank my noble friend Lord Kinnoull for his kind remarks. I ought to explain that I was a founder member of the Royal Commission on Pollution and that I ceased to be a member four or five years ago when my term came to an end.

I wish to make two somewhat philosophical points, compared with the very practical and important matters which have been raised by the noble Earl and by the noble Viscount, Lord Simon. While they may seem to be philosophical, I believe that they are of immense importance and that they lie at the back of all the other matters which they were considering.

Sometimes I worry and wonder whether the human race, or the individual, is really competent or at all capable of handling huge contraptions like supertankers, but since we cannot put back the clock it is as well to review the point and see what it means. While technology seems to have no bounds and races ahead of the competence of human beings to operate new contraptions, in my view what tends to be overlooked and not properly discussed and brought to the surface in the ultimate exploitation of technology at sea are the limitations of the individual.

Obviously, laws are vital, as has been described, but incidents can always happen through the limitations of the individual: whether it be through inexperience, ineptitude, preoccupation with private or vested interests, simply dozing off, too much drink or just losing one's head. These are characteristics which do not occur in the same way in the rest of nature but which have so often accounted for major failures and disasters.

The problem is, I believe, that technology is running ahead of biology, if that is the way to put it. Nature is reliable within certain limits, and all organisms respond to certain familiar signals and stimuli. But uncertainty, and even confusion, arises in any species in the face of the unusual, as soon as the familiar pattern is broken. The unreliability of man, compared with other forms of nature, probably emerged when he started to outstrip the rest of nature and to contend to an increasing degree with the unfamiliar. There are examples of this within living memory, even in this century. Motorists at the start of this century—one of my uncles was among them—used to wind up their cars at the front and promptly run themselves over. Another example which takes place today—there was one recently in East Africa—is that pilots of light aircraft tend to go to the front of the plane when the chocks are off, wind up their aircraft and mow themselves down.

This is simply evidence of science and technology getting ahead of biology, and it is evidence that this particular organism —man—is, like the rest of nature, unpredictable in the face of the unfamiliar. And if it can happen with cars and aircraft, it can, of course, happen, with infinitely more devastating consequences, with supertankers, oil rigs, power stations and so forth.

Today, far too much emphasis, to my mind, is placed on the need for further technology in order to protect us against disasters. That, of course, is vital; but equally, surely, we have to consider most carefully the selection, the training and the competence of the individuals involved. Our primitive ancestors were, in their daily lives, probably more reliable than we are because the demands on them were less complicated and less daunting. Two or 3 million years later, modern man is less reliable because he has not evolved and adapted with the same speed as science and technology, and all the time we are providing people, whose behaviour is uncertain, with technical developments which demand precision. Human individuals cannot guarantee precision.

It was not the "Torrey Canyon" which decided to run on to the reef. It was not the "Amoco Cadiz" that decided to float for 12 hours towards the French coast, and it was not the "Eleni V" which went out and decided to have a collision and break in two. These disasters prove that far higher international standards have got to be secured for the selection and training of people. A vital part of this should be the enforcement by international agreement of far higher standards, totally new conceptions of standards, for the training of look-outs, watch-keepers, pilots and the masters of all ships.

The whole question of safety at sea has always been far behind, and is falling further behind, the standards applied on land and in the air, because sailing the seas is enshrined and embedded in the history of mankind, whereas land and air traffic are newfangled devices for which legislation has not been resisted. The obstacles to adequate legislation are the cherished and outmoded traditions of the sea, one of which is the nations' obsession with freedom of the seas. So preoccupied are we, the human race, with the freedom of the seas, for very good reasons because of national security and survival, that the world still lives really today in a dream age of Vasco da Gama and Cortez. Whatever happens, however hideous the prospects of pollution, nothing must apparently interfere with the freedom of the seas.

My Lords, I served, as I said, for five years on the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, and I am not concerned only with tanker traffic and sea lanes, serious as these are, but with the danger of collision with oil rigs. I am bound to say that I have never heard anything yet which persuades me that a collision with a rig could not occur. In fact I remain convinced that in due course, one cannot possibly predict when or where or how, a disaster in the North Sea involving a rig seems almost inevitable as things stand at present, simply because of this human individual factor. We have got to reconcile nations' preoccupation with the freedom of the seas with the necessity for the same degree of control of sea traffic as applies on land and in the air. Until that is achieved, there is no way of ensuring that a vessel will not go blundering into a danger zone and ram a rig, with tragic consequences.

It is again because of this human factor, which as technology races ahead of us will become of continually mounting significance, that legislation and control must always be stricter than necessary or than seems necessary, and no discipline or precaution can possibly be excessive. Above all, we must resolve this question of the outmoded traditions, because over the next century the biology of man is not going to change to any discernible degree, but technology will continue to advance further and further ahead of the individual. It will take time, obviously, globally, but meanwhile, as the noble Earl and the noble Lord, have suggested, we should get together more locally, with our partners in Europe and do our best to control the Channel and the North Sea with the fiercest courage that we can muster. My Lords, I thank you once again for your kind indulgence.

6.34 p.m.


My Lords, I am very pleased that I am able to express my own gratitude, and I am sure the gratitude of your Lordships, to the noble Lord, Lord Buxton, for that very thoughtful and thought-provoking speech, with which I have so much sympathy. I am very glad to welcome him also to the not very happy band but the band of people in this House who are concerned about these problems. I am quite sure that we will listen to him with great attention and appreciation in the future.

I am glad that the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, persisted with this Unstarred Question. The more this matter is brought to the attention of Parliament and people the better. We cannot have government by catastrophe. We cannot wait until disasters happen to learn how to prevent disasters. We cannot go on improvising measures to deal with "incidents" fraught with dangerous consequences of such magnitude, as has just been expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Buxton, and others. I do not want to be a harbinger of doom, but I have all the encouragement I need from the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull. I would remind your Lordships of the horrors of the Spanish road tanker and the similar horror which happen in Mexico, when in both cases liquid gas exploded. I think what would happen in our congested Western Approaches—the ones that I hope we shall persuade the Government, by whatever measures, better to control—and in the Channel if a similar disaster were to happen to a liquid gas carrier. When liquid gas escapes at atmospheric pressure it vaporises and a spark can detonate it as a fireball which would envelop other ships in those highly congested waters. Francis Drake's fire-ships would seem like fire crackers by comparison.

If that should happen, and it is only an extreme version of what we are talking about tonight, no Government would he excused or should be excused by saying, "We have a committee sitting; we are co-ordinating departmental thinking; we are waiting for others to ratify this or that convention". The circumstances would be totally and completely unforgivable, and I am trying, as I hope we all are, to persuade the Government and those responsible that we have to anticipate because we know what is going to happen.

I would remind the House and my noble friend the Minister that we have had the "Torrey Canyon". We did not particularly learn the admirable lessons which the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, as Chief Scientific Adviser and his officers have tried to teach us. We have not really learned from that adequately. We have had Ekofisk and Bravo; we have had the "Amoco Cadiz"; we have had the "Eleni V". And now every day all over the world we have accidents and spills. If anyone asked me the date when the next serious accident is going to be I could tell them almost certainly that it is happening now somewhere in the world. It is no consolation, none whatever, to be told that really big disasters are infrequent. A "Torrey Canyon" or an "Amoco Cadiz" is enough for a whole generation.

It is clear that the two principal causes of accidents to ships are human error and design. The noble Lord, Lord Buxton, has just been illustrating—and I agree with him completely—how vulnerable we as human beings are to error and how in fact we do condone and have really condoned shockingly bad designs, including, if I may say so, the very super tankers themselves. The very concept of the super-tanker in terms of design seems to me to be quite intolerable. This is not just a question in human terms of poor training of the crews, with which the International Maritime Organisation, IMCO, is seeking to deal, but indeed of human stress and opportunities for error in the operation of the ships.

The "Amoco Cadiz", for example, was one of the most modern of the supertankers. It had a very highly qualified staff; in fact it was almost overmanned by officers. And we know what happened—a rudder failure, with no alternative means to correct it, and confusion, as pointed out by Lord Buxton, about who was calling whom, all the delays which again were human failure. We must insist on the highest safety standards for navigational and cargo transfer equipment for these ships. We must insist on the application of ergonomics, as necessary, trying somehow to reconcile Lord Buxton's difficulty about how we adapt man to technology.

We must have integration of man and machines, which I can tell your Lordships is quite inadequately expressed in the type of ships' equipment we have today. We want to see a hazard and safety audit to be conducted on all types of vessels carrying noxious cargo likely to traverse British coastal waters so that we can identify high risk areas and operation. If any of your Lordships have seen a radar scan of ships crowding into the Western approaches and into the bottleneck of the Channel, you will know the degree of traffic congestion which exists at any hour of the day and night. As the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, pointed out, something like 1 million tons of oil is going through that gullet of the Channel every day. We need proper traffic lanes and we are trying, the French and British between us, to install some kind of traffic lanes; and we have traffic lanes now which Trinity House themselves want to improve upon. We must have traffic lanes and proper policing of those traffic lanes. And we need compulsory identification of ships in those traffic lanes.

Another thing we need is the proper charting of the seas. It is tragic and pathetic that at this moment, when we are talking about all kinds of possibilities we see around us, we are neglecting the services of the hydrographer's department. Britain, which led the world in the charting of the world's oceans, is now deficient in survey ships even to survey the waters in which we are at hazard. I am not talking about our great contribution to charting the great wide open spaces. We are haggling about which Department should be financially responsible for maintaining this indispensable service.

I hope and believe that I am a good internationalist. I believe in, and respect, international law. I have for a long time been very closely involved in the Law of the Sea Conference, which drags on and on, as we all deplore, at this moment, because all the subjects raised are, we say, involved in the Law of the Sea Conference. I respect the efforts IMCO is making. I am heavily involved with IMCO in trying to secure international agreements on the measures which are manifestly necessary if we are going to avoid continuing and accumulating disasters. I want to underscore that the process of securing and implementing agreements is slow. Time is definitely not on our side. The 1969 amendment to the 1954 International Convention on the Prevention of Pollution of the Sea by Oil became operative in January 1978. The 1973 International Convention on the Prevention of Pollution from Ships —the deliberate discharging of waste—has so far been ratified by only three States. It had already become obsolete and was amended by Protocol in February this year.

Even that protocol, with its rules for ship design, is already, or soon will be, completely and totally inadequate, because it demonstrates what happened with the "Amoco Cadiz" disaster. The French Government submitted to IMCO amendment proposals which included, as a result of the "Amoco Cadiz" disaster, requirements for all new tankers to have complete duplication of steering gear, propulsion systems and electric power generating systems.

Conventions are binding only on those States which have become parties to them. Non-signatories need not comply with these rules. Let me point out what will happen. There will be a multiplication of ships of non-signatory-State flags using our waters. We are reminded sometimes of the high safety record of vessels flying the United Kingdom flag. I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, that on paper we have, apparently, a very good record. Maybe. But what that record conceals is the common practice, for British and other ship owners wishing to use ships which have lower standards but which are cheaper to operate, to register their vessels in flags of convenience States. I suggest it is imperative that the British Government should prevent and prohibit British nationals and legal persons from registering sub-standard ships or employing sub-standard crews under other flags. Many sub-standard vessels have been on charter to oil companies of very high repute when accidents have occurred. I suggest—or at least the Advisory Committee on Oil Pollution at Sea would suggest—that Her Majesty's Government should impose on charterers of vessels the same obligations as are imposed on the owners of vessels.

Let me give you two pathetic figures. In 1976 the Department of Trade prosecuted only three ships for polluting our waters. In 1977 it prosecuted only two ships for intentional discharges of oil at sea. We and the local authorities, with their defiled beaches, know just how common those discharges are. We know that the example of "Eleni V" was taken and used as a cynical pretext by masters of tankers to discharge oil waste. We know that because we can identify the types of oil that came ashore in many places and which by their nature could not have come from the "Eleni V". This is cynicism. These were unidentified ships. However, if they had been identified and had been reported to their flag States, would those States have instituted proceedings? We do not know. We do not know how far our Government have pursued such matters. I strongly recommend—and here I support the noble Viscount, Lord Simon—Her Majesty's Government, along with the North-West European Governments, to legislate for the incorporation of port-State jurisdiction in regional agreements to ensure action against such ships passing through our territorial seas.

Apart from the departmental anomaly which we have, that the Department of the Environment is responsible for up to one mile of our shores and the Department of Trade, beyond, for up to three miles, it seems obvious that our regulative powers to prevent pollution should be extended at least to 12 miles. Her Majesty's Government should go further and see that in the law of the seas an internationally acceptable pollution control regime should be incorporated in the Exclusive Economic Zone of 200 miles.

I come to a point which was raised by the Question: ACOPS—the advisory committee—is concerned, on behalf of its local government members, with the cost of cleaning up oil pollution. It is possible to recover the cost if the source of pollution has been identified. As was pointed out, often it cannot be identified. I may say that we in the Advisory Committee have much better pollution figures than the Department of Trade has. Most of the oil deposited on our beaches cannot be identified.

Her Majesty's Government must surely provide the ways and means, the cleaning-up equipment, the policing, the pollution monitoring, and the cost of clean-up and of compensation. How they will finance it is another matter, but there must be provision. There should perhaps be a rate levy on all shipping entering British ports—similar to that which applies to the lighthouse levies—to compensate those who suffer from the oil industry's unavoidable and often unidentifiable accidents. At the moment we have complete and total cynicism. It is now possible for anyone to insure themselves against the fines they will be called upon to pay for their misdemeanours. At least we should ensure administratively that these fines are not insurable, and that it falls back on somebody somewhere to take the responsibility for seeing ultimately that those events do not happen.

6.49 p.m.


My Lords, I also am grateful to the noble Earl for having given us the opportunity to discuss this extremely important and indeed worrying topic. I am also grateful to him for having given us the opportunity of hearing for the first time in your Lordships' House the noble Lord, Lord Buxton. I very much nope that there will be many more such occasions when we shall have that privilege.

So far, noble Lords have referred, and quite rightly, to the more major oil pollution disasters in our waters—disasters whereby there is an accident and suddenly at the time of the accident tens if not hundreds of thousands of tons of oil are released on to the surface of the sea. With your Lordships' permission, I should like to spend a few moments considering a different aspect of pollution. The major accident may be avoidable and, as noble Lords have said, every precaution should be taken to avoid such accidents, but they are not predictable. The type of pollution to which I wish to refer is, I submit, predictable.

I am referring to the case of a vessel which sinks with its oil tanks intact. In the case of such a vessel, it is not possible to predict exactly when pollution will occur, but in my view it is possible to predict that pollution will occur at some time. I quote the example—and it is a very small example compared with what your Lordships have been talking about—of the "Ella Hewitt", a trawler which sank some 13 years ago in Church Bay, Rathlin Island, which lies between the Mull of Kintyre in Scotland and the north-east coast of County Antrim, Northern Ireland. Most distressing was the fact that this is an extremely important area for the breeding of wild seabirds both resident and more important still, migratory. Also, it is an important area for shellfish.

Briefly, the story was as follows. After something like 12 years and when the sunken vessel had virtually been forgotten, a small oil leak was observed during the winter of 1976–1977. It was not enough to do any damage but—with hindsight—I have no doubt that it ought to have been looked upon as being a warning, because the following winter, in November/December 1977, a serious leakage occurred from the fuel oil tanks of the sunken trawler. On 29th November, 25 dead birds were picked up on the shores of Rathlin Island. The leakage continued and the Department of the Environment was notified in early or mid-December 1977, but it disclaimed responsibility because the emission of oil was more than one mile off shore. However, it agreed to make itself responsible for trying to clean up the oil if it came ashore, though not for tackling the source of its emission.

Throughout January 1978 pressure was put on the Department of Trade to try to have some action taken. I personally tabled a Question in your Lordships' House as, indeed, did the Member who represents that part of the country in another place. It was at about that time —about February—that a regrettable delay occurred. In the meantime, on 28th January 1978, a Royal Naval salvage team arrived and subsequently reported—not until March, I am told—that private tenders should be invited to deal with this sunken vessel. When the tenders were received they were unacceptable and eventually it was decided that the Royal Navy could do the work. But, by that time, it was too late because the nesting season for the wild fowl starts in about mid-April and by then it was the end of March.

The interested bodies, such as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, felt that the danger of trying to cope with the vessel after the nesting season had started was such that it would be better to postpone it until after the end of August when the migratory birds would have gone away again and the nesting season would have finished. However, there is still the danger that between now and then there could be another seepage. There was a slight one towards the end of June due to rough weather and that is why we consider it so regrettable that there was this delay and that the vessel could not be dealt with prior to the nesting season. To the best of my knowledge the damage to bird life, fish—especially shellfish—and fishing tackle has not yet been estimated, but it is certainly very considerable.

So, I venture to ask Her Majesty's Government why there was that unfortunate delay and why there was doubt as to whose responsibility it was to deal with the problem over the period between December 1977 and March/April 1978, especially when it is known that the considerable damage done was caused by only some 10 tons of oil leaving the vessel, while there were still another 170 tons on board. With respect, I should like to seek assurances from the noble Lord on the Front Bench that work will be put in hand without fail in the early autumn so that another winter will not pass in which inevitably the winter storms will break up the vessel further and release more oil.

So much for that particular case. I now turn to the generalities. It seems strange to me that there was no emergency drill for coping with this, as I say, predictable situation. No one knew as the vessel gradually deteriorated under water, when the oil would come out, but sooner or later it was bound to do so. And now it has started. Is there no procedure for this? Is no one responsible? Is there no way in which it can he dealt with without such delay and such lengthy negotiations with the further damage which is thus caused?

That raises a worrying thought: how many more vessels are there lying on the sea bed with oil in tanks which are gradually corroding and deteriorating and which will begin to emit oil sooner or later? After all, this is a comparatively modern problem as conversion to fuel oil as the general motive power for ships has really only taken place in the last 50 years. It is horrifying to think of the number of sunken vessels such as the "Princess Victoria", which went down in 1952, which are still lying on the sea bed and which could well emit oil at some time.

Therefore, if Her Majesty's Government can give us any indication of what plans they have in mind for dealing with this problem I should be extremely grateful and so indeed should those who have suffered from this rather less spectacular but, at the same time, distressing and worrying sort of damage through pollution.

6.58 p.m.

Baroness VICKERS

My Lords, first, I should like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Buxton on the very interesting intervention which he made. He comes from an area with very beautiful countryside and a good sea line, and I am sure he is very concerned lest it may be damaged from time to time. I was very glad to know that on the last occasion no great disaster resulted. I should like to say how much we look forward to hearing from him again.

My reason for speaking is that regrettably I had the opportunity of seeing for myself the wreck of the "Torrey Canyon" and taking part in some of the meetings which were held to try to solve the problem of what should be done about it. The difficulty is that no two wrecks are quite the same so the plans that one may make for one do not fit the other. In my view, ships have grown far too large and, as several noble Lords have mentioned, the seas are too crowded. However, as the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, will know, an Inquiry is at present being held, concerning hydrography. I agree with the noble Viscount that it is absolutely essential to get some of the seas re-mapped because ships are drawing so much lower in the water and we want an idea of what will happen. The Inquiry was undertaken some years ago by the Royal Navy by two excellent ships called "HMS Fox" and "HMS Fawn". I hope that they will continue this work because it is not expensive, it is a job which they like doing, and they have done it very well in the past.

When I say that ships are too large I am talking in terms of the "Torrey Canyon" being two and a half times the length of a football pitch. Propped up beside the Eiffel Tower she would have been only 10 feet less than the Eiffel Tower itself. As the noble Lord. Lord Buxton, said, so much depends on individuals. However good one's steering gear and so on may be, it is bound to go wrong from time to time because even modern instruments are not infallible. Therefore, I think that it is unwise to have such large ships. Times have changed since the Reverend John Troutbeck, who was an 18th-century vicar in the Isles of Scilly is said to have prayed: We pray thee O Lord, not that wrecks should happen, but if wrecks do happen, Thou wilt guide them into the Scilly Isles for the benefit of the poor inhabitants. In those days they were very good smugglers. At present they are poor in a different sense.

A committee, under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale, was set up to inquire into the circumstances of the "Torrey Canyon" disaster. I should like to pay tribute to the noble Lord for the stepping-stones he made in the guidance that he gave. He had a very difficult task to perform. There was then set up the Zuckerman Committee, which stated that the first course to be taken in attempting to save the standard tanker was to avoid large-scale pollution, and that the Government had to try in the light of the professional advice that they had been given. At that time there was very little professional advice and it came rather later.

However, I am very interested in the recent report—Cmnd. 7217, of May 1978 by the Department of Trade—entitled Action on Safety and Pollution at Sea: New Merchant Shipping Bill. I hope that the noble Lord. Lord Strabolgi, will be able to say that that Bill is now in draft form and ready to go on the stocks. I hope that whatever Government come to power after the next General Election, they will be able to get on with this very necessary Bill. It has five very useful Protocols. I should like to quote one: Taken together these instruments"— these five Protocols Will both reduce the risk of tanker casualites and operational pollution from tank cleaning and improve the means of dealing with them, should they occur. In addition, the Bill would permit the ratification of a great many of the United Nation's suggestions; we could join with other countries on these. There is also a clause which suggests that there should be compulsory pilotage. I think that that would be a very great safeguard to many ships. Clause 17 deals with the prevention of pollution from the ships themselves.

Following the "Torrey Canyon" disaster the Marine Biological Association carried out a considerable amount of work into the way in which oil floats tend to travel. If they are fortunate enough to follow the prevailing wind, I gather that they travel at about 3.3 per cent. of the wind's velocity. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, would be kind enough to say how successful was the "Black Watch" exercise which, I gather, was held at Milford Haven on 9th June, and what has been learned from it and the two previous exercises at Belfast Lough and off Shetland.

As the United Kingdom ratified the Paris Convention for the Prevention of Marine Pollution from Land-based Sources in April 1978, we can now join with 13 States which have signed, six so far having ratified the Convention. Therefore, we shall be able to play a full part and attend the meetings of the Paris Commission. Contracting parties have agreed to adopt measures to combat and monitor marine pollution and to cooperate in scientific and technical research. Therefore, that should be helpful to our members now that we can attend.

Noble Lords have raised the question of the Department of Trade being given responsibility for dealing with oil spills in 1969. But what has it done and what action is now the responsibility of the local authorities? In 1975 the Standing Committee on Pollution Clearance at Sea was set up. What progress has it made? I understand that the Shell Company has invested £800,000 into a study to discover the fate of oil when it is left on the surface. I gather that this will include the effect it has on marine life, in which the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, is so interested. There has been a recent study of a "blowout" North-East of the Shetlands which shows that oil spills would drift away into the North Atlantic. Norway, however, is not in danger, and particularly its marine life. Perhaps the noble Lord would like to mention the reaction to that exercise.

Eight North Sea and Channel nations might, I suggest, begin to enforce the joint new regulations on training, which have been mentioned by several noble Lords, on equipment and construction standards for all ships of whatever nationality or origin which enter their ports—a matter which was particularly mentioned by the noble Viscount, Lord Simon. There really must be better search for the real owners of these different ships.

I should like to end by making two suggestions. First, I understand that the British and French have joined forces to call for a major intervention by the United Nations in order to straighten out the differences with regard to Spain. All the experts who have been kind enough to give me some information say that the great thing is to stop the oil from spreading and to destroy the ships involved as quickly as possible. One of the main difficulties arising from destroying the ships is that they always have different plans. I should like to suggest that we might ask the United Nations or some other organisation—perhaps IMCO—to insist that the plans of all ships should be deposited at, perhaps, Lloyd's Register. Therefore, when a ship is stranded, in trouble or on the rocks, those going to tackle the problem will have some ideas of its design. As I understand it, various methods are used for the storage of oil in ships. So perhaps we could have a library of ships' plans which might be kept at Lloyd's Register. As the noble Lord, Lord Buxton, mentioned, there could be better training for the people concerned. Regrettably, the captain of the "Torrey Canyon" was ruined for life; he had a very bad breakdown; but it was due to an error of judgment on his part that the ship went on to those rocks.

Finally, I suggest that there should be a team of trained men to go on to the ships as soon as possible and take action. I suggest that men of Her Majesty's Forces—in particular the Army and the Air Force—should be specially trained so that they are on alert and can be called in at once. They would have a knowledge of the type of ship; they would have the necessary training and would take action, as they do in such incidents as the detonation of bombs. I suggest that we could call for volunteers from the Services who would be interested in this work. Then we should have some trained teams always at hand for emergencies. I think that they would find it an interesting exercise. The Services do not have many very interesting exercises at present, so this is something which the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, might perhaps think about.

7.18 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to start by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Buxton, on his excellent maiden speech. We certainly all look forward to hearing from him often in the future. I should also like to thank the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, for raising this important subject yet again in your Lordships' House. I very much agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Buxton, said, that nothing must interfere with the freedom of the seas. Indeed, from the mariner's point of view it is important that there should be as few restrictions as possible to navigation.

We are dealing here with pollution, an emotive subject. I am inclined to go against what the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, and the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, have said as regards doing things in a hurry. I believe that it is much better that people—and preferably seamen, who are people with experience of going to sea—should sit down and carefully consider all aspects of these important questions before coming to any conclusions. Indeed, I think that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, said in your Lordships' House quite recently that any legislation adopted in a hurry was almost always bad legislation. I can see great dangers in rushing into all sorts of new legislation connected with this subject, as I believe our Gallic friends across the Channel would dearly like to do.

This brings me to the first question that I should like to ask the Government. The Anglo-French Accidents Technical Group and the Anglo-French Safety of Navigation Group have sponsored a joint Anglo-French contingency plan known as the "Manche Plan" to deal with all types of maritime disasters in the English Channel. This plan was exercised on the 10th and 11th June last year. Another exercise was planned for this year. Unfortunately, the "Amoco Cadiz" incident intervened, and I believe it was decided to use the "Amoco Cadiz" incident as an exercise. I should therefore like to ask the Government whether they are satisfied with the arrangements made under the Manche Plan agreement in the light of what happened in the "Amoco Cadiz" disaster.

The noble Viscount, Lord Simon, mentioned in passing a speech made in your Lordships' House recently about sub-standard ships and flags of convenience. I believe that to ban flags of convenience has been mooted in certain circles. I should like to say something briefly about this. You have sub-standard ships under all flags and not necessarily under the Liberian and Monrovian flags, et cetera. In fact, our own flag is one of the most attractive flags of convenience at this moment in time. For instance, I believe it costs only about £63 to register a ship under the British flag, and there is no annual levy, whereas taking, for instance, Liberia—and I shall use as an example a 200,000-ton tanker—the annual tax per annum is 10,000 dollars, and if a Greek crew is used there is a further Greek levy of 95,000 dollars a year, thus making the cost of registering a Greek crewed ship under the Liberian flag about 100,000 dollars a year. This is something that is not generally realised.

May I just toss in an idea that I hope the Government will study with a view to the steps that are taken in dealing with major pollution after an accident has occurred. There is a new French idea, that has been brought out by a combination of French shipbuilding companies, of a large ship known, I think I am right in saying, as a de-polluting vessel, and which is described as a "peculiar oil tanker". This ship is based on a design that is in use commercially and with the Navy. Large ships carry landing craft or barges. These can be floated into the stern and then the doors can be shut and the parent ship lifts itself up and steams off.

This particular ship carries its own little fleet of ships which can go out and gather the oil and bring it into this large ship, which then has the capacity of separating the oil and the seawater on the spot. I think I am right in saying that the provisional cost of such a ship is £23 million. I just toss that idea in as something that the Government might like to look at, as I do not think that anything successful has been done so far with regard to cleaning up the mess once it has occurred.

I come now to the major matter that I want to talk about, and that is the business of ship routing. One noble Lord has already mentioned the number of tankers that pass through the Channel every day, and we have an even greater number of cargo ships, container ships, and what-have-you. Something that is probably not generally thought about when we are discussing these matters, and particularly disasters like the "Torrey Canyon" and the "Amoco Cadiz", is that between those two disasters over 21,000 VLCCs—very large crude carriers—safely traversed the Channel. The statistics look very good when looked at from that aspect.

Shipping lanes were brought in initially in the English Channel in, I think, 1967 when a voluntary scheme was adopted—the first of its kind in the world, I might add. This has evolved over the course of years and has come to what we have today in the Dover Straits Separation Scheme—undoubtedly the best example of a ship separation scheme in the world today. Our expertise here is something that could well be exported to other countries.

In case your Lordships do not know it, the basic idea is to send inward bound ships on the French side of the Channel and outward bound ships down our side of the Channel. This scheme is surveyed by the Dover Straits Information and Surveillance Service, which is run by the coastguard from St. Margaret's Bay. The French have a similar set-up on Cap Gris Nez on the other side of the Channel which I believe is manned, in the main, by French national servicemen.

From St. Margaret's Bay, which I have visited, they oversee all shipping going through the Channel and they report rogues, as they are known, or ships which are contravening the shipping lanes.

As from last year it was internationally agreed that these lanes should be observed, and that fines could be imposed—and certainly have been imposed by our country and also by countries such as Liberia. I think that the desired effect has been achieved to a certain extent. The number of collisions occurring in the Channel has fallen dramatically.

We are using at St. Margaret's Bay some of the most sophisticated radar in the world for this purpose of ship routing. I should like here to pay a tribute to the men who man the coastguard station and the Channel surveillance system at St. Margaret's Bay because they have done a very good job. The Dover Straits Scheme has been in existence for some time, as have various schemes in several parts of the world and also round our own coastline. Two other major schemes are the ones off Ushant, which is very relevant to the "Amoco Cadiz" question, and one off the Casquets and the Cotentin Peninsula.

Before I pass on to the new schemes to which IMCO have agreed, and which are coming into effect from 1st January next year, I should like to mention one final point in respect of these separation lanes, and that is several incidents which have occurred recently with regard to large, deep-draught tankers passing through the Dover Straits. That is described as a "RIAM", or "restriction inability to manoeuvre". The internationally agreed rule of the sea is that a ship should give way to a ship coming in from its starboard or right-hand side. I know personally that pilots in charge of some of these large tankers proceeding through the Channel will not necessarily give way to a ship coming in from the starboard side. I am not saying that that is entirely wrong in the circumstances, although it goes right against the internationally agreed "rule of the road" at sea. I, for one, would not like to put my helm over on a large super tanker 20 degrees when I am in the middle of the Dover Straits.

We must look at this carefully and perhaps we shall have to agree on some special local rule to use when going through the Dover Straits, as is used at present in certain harbour areas—Southampton is one, I believe. Somebody described this rather nicely recently as "blinkered navigation"; officers on super tankers enter a shipping lane, think they are on a motorway and think they are all right and can steam straight through without worrying about any other ship. That is a dangerous precedent to set. The noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, mentioned pilotage and compulsory pilotage. Pilots are available for all waters in northern Europe at the moment, and indeed the other day I heard of one pilot who held a Trinity House licence from Europa Point in Gibraltar to the north cape of Norway, so facilities exist for pilots.

I come now to the new IMCO-agreed scheme, which I believe is backed by the Government—I shall ask about that later—which will come into operation on 1st January 1979; I believe the new charts are about ready. This scheme provides a new lane for in-bound deep-draught tankers and other ships carrying hazardous cargoes between 27 and 33 miles off Ushant. Inside this lane, and separated from it by six miles, will be a new five-mile wide lane for outward bound ships, including tankers. Since these will normally be in ballast, the scheme says, there will not be so much danger from pollution if there is a breakdown.

Something that has not been mentioned before is that we are now an exporter of oil, so it will not necessarily be light ships going westbound down the English Channel. Inside these lanes is an eight-mile wide lane for other ships entering the Channel. There is a new scheme further up the Channel for the Casquets area which pushes the existing separation lanes further out to sea and gives a five-mile wide lane for westbound ships and a seven-mile wide lane for eastbound ships, separated by a three-mile zone. This is a scheme which has been agreed by IMCO and will come into effect—I think it will be mandatory—for any ship navigating in that area from 1st January next year.

This scheme has one grave defect. As it stands, the in-bound deep-draught tankers and ships carrying dangerous cargoes have to cross the out-bound lane about 30 miles south of Start Point and the ships will have to cross at a fairly fine angle; and there is nothing a seaman fears more than a head-on situation. It is probably only a matter of time before we witness a major collision in the area south of Start Point when the scheme comes into operation. Another drawback is that by pushing the lanes further out to sea in the Casquets area, those deep-draught tankers which at the moment steam up the middle of the Channel—and there is nothing to stop their doing that; as a yachtsman I see it every week-end—will now be forced to mix with other ships and use the separation scheme.

Trinity House have recently come up with a new routing proposal for the Channel, their argument being that in the course of time ships will get pushed further and further out into the middle of the Channel, so we might as well start by putting them down the middle straight away. Their scheme is basically a logical extension of the existing Dover Straits separation scheme. It has two through routes, east and west, to provide safe offshore channels at least six to eight miles wide for the main flow of traffic from the Atlantic to north European ports, routes which arc relatively straight for about 200 miles. All deep-draught and potentially hazardous cargoed ships—which, indidentally, are the ones which would be forced to use this scheme—would therefore be kept as far away from the shore as possible.

A major floating aid, or possibly a lightship, would be placed 20 miles south of Start Point to mark the centre line and provide a sophisticated navigational aid at mid-Channel point. Two further buoys would he placed west of that as reference entry points, and those would he fitted with sophisticated navigational aids for ships to home in on. The scheme would involve four cross-Channel gateways at crossing points down the Channel and these would be marked by a large buoy which would line the mid-Channel lane from the existing Greenwich buoy on the Greenwhich meridian, which notifies the start of the Dover scheme, and would be placed at approximately 50-mile intervals down the Channel. I apologise to the House for taking so long at this hour, but this is an important matter which has not arisen in your Lordships' House before.

The only cross-over point in the Trinity House scheme would be 40 miles south of Land's End, where shipping bound outwards for the south Atlantic would cross north Atlantic inbound traffic, and it is considered that the collision regulations as they exist would be sufficient in this open sea area, and if necessary ships could also be instructed to report their position at set times relative to the crossing point of the buoys along the Channel. This scheme is not perfect but it provides a useful discussion point and the Government should look at it. Are the Government satisfied that the IMCO-agreed scheme, which is shortly to be implemented, is, in their opinion, satisfactory?

As a matter of interest, I have with me two letters written in answer to a query raised in the Nautical Review, the journal of the Joint Nautical Institute, 70 per cent. of whose members are sea-going, and Lloyd's of London, and these letters show—in fact the majority of letters show—that seamen favour the Trinity House scheme. One letter is from the master of the Liberian tanker "Universe Kuwait" in which he writes: I favour the alternative scheme proposed by Trinity House because … the IMOC plan, where off the Casquets loaded tankers come into a crossing situation with other vessels, gives me an uneasy feeling … I feel that, should the IMOC scheme be adopted, another disaster of 'Amoco Cadiz' proportions off the Casquets will have become a very distinct possibility. The other letter, from another master, referring to the IMCO scheme, says: I do not like this scheme. I believe it will create a very dangerous crossing area north-west of Casquets and a three-lane scheme off Ushant may be confusing. I ask the Government to consider those views, which appear to be shared by the men who are steaming up and down the Channel every day.

My final comments are about communications—and communications problems exist. For example, there was recently an occasion when a tanker was seen to be steaming in loaded towards the Dorset coast. All the authorities were alerted and a helicopter was sent out. The helicopter flew round the tanker trying to turn her round, but eventually it transpired that the tanker had merely been going into anchor, which of course he was perfectly within his right to do. On the subject of communications and this business of ships reporting in—the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, referred to mandatory reporting—I believe there is a French proposal under which all deep-draught ships and ships with dangerous cargoes must report in when approaching Ushant. I believe it will be voluntary for a start. Ships would be required to report in quite a considerable amount of information—name, position, course, speed, general destination, cargo, draught—a lot of things which the man on the bridge of a large super tanker, who may well be busy plotting his position and watching the positions of other ships, will not necessarily have the time to run over to the radio telephone to report to a coastal station.

We also have the problem of which language to use if there is to be any reporting in. The French are very keen that French should be used as well as English. Indeed, there is nothing to stop anybody navigating the seas from speaking any language he likes. I can see enormous problems here. Finally, I would ask the Government whether they are in agreement with the French idea of ships reporting in? As a final word, my Lords, ship routing is basically done in the interests of safety and when the problem has been solved I think there will be less danger of pollution occurring in the English Channel.

7.31 p.m.


My Lords, this debate has confirmed what I very quickly found when I started to look at it, that this subject is rather more far-reaching than one might have imagined when one saw the noble Earl's Motion on the Order Paper. I hope that we shall have some opportunity to come back to have a full debate about it at some time, but this will act as an extremely useful trailer this evening and I am very grateful to the noble Earl. I am sure that we all accepted his handsome apology at the beginning. I have to tell him that there were two beneficial results of his little local difficulty, in that a lot of us benefited from the extra briefing that we were able to get upon the subject and in that it flushed out a very distinguished and thoughtful maiden speech from my noble friend behind me. I hope that in future speeches his philosophy is not going to get any deeper, because if it does I doubt that I shall be able to follow him. Nevetherless, it was a very valuable contribution.

Most noble Lords have referred to a number of accidents and I am very glad that we all followed the advice of the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, and did not try to act as a court of inquiry into what happened to the "Amoco Cadiz". Curiously enough, nobody mentioned the other tanker—whose name escapes me—which went ashore on its maiden voyage, happily when it was empty, and not so far away from the same area either. What has happened in the three events we have been talking about—the sinking of the "Amoco Cadiz", the "Eleni V" and the "Torrey Canyon"—has shown us that tankers must be added to the list of ships which can be defined as carrying noxious cargoes which can inflict their blight, danger and damage hundreds of miles away from where the accident takes place. That was mentioned by a number of noble Lords in different ways and, as somebody who lives 30 miles down-wind from Rathlin Island, I view with some apprehension my forthcoming holiday in that area and hope that the fuel tank of the trawler in question remains intact for long enough or at least that the oil comes out slowly enough for natural forces to control it.

The other point that we have to recognise is that this is a problem which is not going to get better: it will get worse unless we learn the lessons and tackle them urgently. To that extent, I am bound to say that I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Greenway. We can say without much fear of contradiction that in none of these incidents is the sequence of events and reactions to them wholly beyond criticism. These accidents might be said to represent the tip of an iceberg lurking rather menacingly just below the surface. Having said that, it is also fair to say that I am told that there were something like 21,000 successful passages of tankers up the Channel between the "Torrey Canyon" and the "Amoco Cadiz" incidents, so we must keep a sense of proportion.

I am aware that IMCO and the General Council of British Shipping are considering these problems but I want to suggest that their time-scale may be too long. It is also fair to repeat here the old adage that the best may be the enemy of the good. At the end of my speech, I am going to make what I hope will be one or two constructive suggestions. I agree with most noble Lords, but, in particular, with the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, who emphasised that the best way to get at the problem of pollution is to try to prevent it happening at all. I had chosen Hyde Park Corner as my analogy but the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, used Piccadilly Circus at rush hour. What is beyond question, however, is that this area is a very busy one and that that concentration creates special dangers which may need special preventive measures, a special legal regime for minimising the resulting damage after an accident or an incident—whichever you care to call it—and also, special arrangements once an accident has taken place.

The first curious feature is the strange legal situation to which a number of noble Lords have referred. For example, strictly speaking, Trinity House have authority only out to the territorial limits, but for many years they have operated lightships outside the territorial limits and nobody, so far as I am aware, has complained about that. Indeed, they have long since agreed a median line with the French when it comes to wreck clearance. Their record here is a remarkable example of practical good sense. I suggest, therefore, that it is not all that impossible to make the lawyers see sense. We have the precedent of the 200-mile exclusive economic zone and the 50-mile fishery limits, as the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, suggested.

Secondly, there is the question of the manning and the training. Here, I would specifically say that I am not trying to get at the operators of flags of convenience. I should like to suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, that countries operating flags of convenience are becoming increasingly responsible—if that is the right word—and are tightening the standards which they demand. But we have to recognise, as the noble Lord, Lord Buxton, pointed out, that there are tremendous pressures being put on crews these days. The commercial pressures are very great and, without saying so specifically, he indicated to us that the existence of radar in many ways puts an extra strain on the people on the bridge rather than reducing that strain.

The fact remains that some masters—and I am sure they are a tiny minority—have certificates which are either not of an acceptable standard or have been acquired in an improper manner. We ought to be satisfied that any master bringing a ship up the channel has a properly attested and authorised qualification. The pilot service could make a contribution here. I am quite sure that any pilot on boarding a ship is not aboard very long before he has a very clear impression as to whether or not the vessel is efficiently equipped, managed and manned. There might be something to be said for requesting all pilots to make a confidential report on every ship they visit, so that it would quite quickly become abundantly clear when a ship was inadequately run, in the broadest sense of that term.

There is also the question of routing, and here I do not think that I should add anything to what my friend—if I may call him that—Lord Greenway told us about. From what I know—and I confess that I have been got at—I would support the Trinity House scheme in preference to the IMCO Scheme. I have details of it here, if the noble Lord would care to look at it before he answers the debate, though I dare say he has already seen it. Here a point arises which I think is worth making. I understand that the idea was once mooted of routing very large carriers around the north end of this island, and down in through the North Sea, but apparently, despite our inadequate hydrography, we know that there is not enough water for them there, so that simply is not an option that is open to us.

I also consider that the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, about transponders and communications is a good one. I cannot believe that it would be so difficult to have transponders on all ships coming into the Channel. I am a pure chauvinist about the matter of language of communications. I do not suppose that we shall ever get the French to agree, but the plain fact is that English is the nearest thing to an international maritime language, in much the same way as it is the international airline language. It seems to me that there would be a good case for saying that every ship that comes up the Channel should have on board someone who speaks either French or English, for starters; and I believe that it will end up by being English only before very long. I turn to another point which I think was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Buxton. We must recognise that seafarers have become—dare I say it?—conservative. They have been at it for over 7,000 years, whereas we have been flying for only 70 years, and aviators have had a rather fresh approach.

When it comes to construction standards, I again find that I would not go all the way with the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder. It seems to me that the classification societies and the insurers ought to address themselves to this matter. If they do not take care of their own interests as well as they might, it is high time that they looked to this. It seems to me that they are the people to do it. Two specific points have been suggested to me. One is the provision of bow thrusters for very large vessels. I know that these do not work once a ship is under way, but if there is a breakdown at least one can keep the ship pointing in the right direction. The other point that has been made is that a very large vessel might usefully provide itself with its own towing gear for use in an emergency, because one of the major problems is passing the towing equipment. My recollection, from 30 years ago, is that it is the practice in the Navy that the towed vessel always provides the tow.

On the question of salvage, surely it must be right that international arbitration should be compulsory. I gather that in many cases this occurs now. The concept of arguing over the money while a danger builds must be wrong. However, we should not get over-emotional about the issue. In an article the other day, a picture was painted of the salvage tugs as vultures hovering rather like Lady Vickers' Cornish pirates of yore, waiting for disasters to occur. If we are to have an alternative arrangement as regards disaster provision it will be exceedingly expensive unless the rewards for the curing of a disaster are very substantial.

A number of noble Lords have referred to the need for better techniques and better emergency services to deal with pollution once it has occurred. I feel that this, too, can to some extent be put back to the insurance companies. We know that there is the difficulty of establishing claims and obtaining compensation. Here I think I would again disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder. I am not trying to pick on him in any way. He said that he does not think that shipping companies should be indemnified by insurance companies. But it seems to me that it would be very much in the interests of an insurance company which is asked to indemnify a shipping company to make jolly sure that an indemnity is not called for—


My Lords, objected to their being indemnified for fines.


I quite accept that; and it is obviously objectionable that legal obligations arising from contravening the law should be insured against, although I suppose that there is no law against doing that. I should not disagree with the noble Lord if he would go along with me in the view that the insurers can quite properly pick up that kind of indemnification. The idea of the noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, that plans should be made available within the limits of commercial confidentiality was very practical. because there must be a real problem here.

So much for the principles. We return to the question of what to do in order to get quick, practical action. I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, that the Channel and the North Sea must be regarded as special situations. It is perfectly true that, historically, this country has always asserted the freedom of the seas, and that implies the right of innocent passage, which I think was originally meant to mean unwarlike passage. It seems to me doubtful whether innocence can be extended through naivety into irresponsibility. We now know the dangers that we face. As potential sufferers we surely have the right to demand special care and to impose special precautions on those who seek to carry noxious cargoes through the narrow waters. I believe that they must prove that they have taken all reasonable precautions before they do so.

So I am forced to the conclusion that the Channel and the North Sea should be declared a special control zone from, say, a line between Ushant and the Scillies, up to somewhere north of the Scheldt estuary. It seems to me that the quickest way to impose this—and I mean impose it—would be to seek an agreement between the riparian States, as was done under the spur of the discovery of the resources under the North Sea. It did not take very long for it to be decided how best to carve up that particular bonanza, and happily no one has challenged the right so to do. I suppose that that suggestion involves the United Kingdom, France, Belgium, Holland, and perhaps Ireland and Germany. The noble Viscount, Lord Simon, was on very much the same point when he talked about the EEC, though I should have thought that the riparian States constituted a marginally better proposal, but the general idea is the same.

We certainly ought to take IMCO along with us; and here I do not need to add very much to what the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, said about the endless delays regarding the Law of the Sea Conference, and what the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, said about it having taken eight years for IMCO to achieve very much. It is a United Nations arm. That is not a body which is noted for enormously quick action. It is a big body; it is ponderous and slow-moving; it is subjected to political attitudinizing, if I may use that word; and sometimes, regrettably, those who are taking these attitudes are nations with only minimal maritime experience, whereas the nations I am talking about would be those most vitally concerned, all of whom have been at it for a very long time.

I should have thought that any ship entering this special zone should be deemed to be accepting certain special conditions and obligations—that is to say, the certification of the master, the acceptance of the routing, the notification of noxious cargoes (however one cares to define those), agreement on identification and communication, and the undertaking to notify any incident or potentially hazardous situation and acceptance of immediate salvage action subject to international arbitration.

It seems to me that it would not be awfully difficult for infringement of any of these accepted rules to lead the riparian States politely to decline to accept the ship the next time round unless its contempt had been discharged, which I believe is the legal expression for it. I hope I do not make this sound too simple, but I really believe that something on these lines would command the support of the shipping industry, the insurance interests, the pilots, Trinity House and I hope perhaps even the Government.

7.53 p.m.


My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Strathcona, has said, this has been a far-reaching debate. I agree with him and other noble Lords that it has been a very useful debate, and it is one that I welcome. I should like to thank the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, for putting down this Question. I appreciate all that he said, and, wearing my other hat of Deputy Chief Whip, I congratulate him on his insistence in ensuring that this debate took place before the Recess. Before replying to all the speeches, I should like to join with my noble friend Lord Ritchie-Calder in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Buxton, most warmly on his maiden speech. His family and my family are very old friends, and we are very glad to see him here. His speech, I think, has been a most notable contribution, and we look forward to hearing from him on many other occasions.

My Lords, the Government are determined that in the future, just as in the past, the United Kingdom should play a leading role in the search for effective measures to reduce oil pollution from ships. This involves the pursuit, not only of measures to reduce deliberate oil pollution as a result of routine ship operations—for example, tankers washing out their tanks, which has been referred to today—but also of measures to improve the safety of ships, particularly oil tankers, and thereby to reduce the number of shipping casualties which can result in this serious problem of oil pollution, with all its far-reaching consequences. As has been said, our coasts may be polluted by vessels of any nation. The problen can therefore be dealt with only on an international basis if we are to avoid the anarchy of conflicting national requirements. Consequently, we have directed our main efforts—I shall have something to say about our other efforts later on—towards action in IMCO, which is the United Nations specialised agency and which has its headquarters in London, in recognition of the traditional leading role of this country in maritime affairs.

But, my Lords, we must also recognise that there are no quick or straightforward solutions to the problem of oil pollution. We must progress step by step through unremitting efforts by all the nations concerned. I am glad to say that there have been a number of important advances so far this year. In January, the 1969 amendments to the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution of the Sea by Oil 1954 finally came into force internationally. The amended convention lays down discharge standards which, if universally adopted, should substantially eliminate oil pollution as a result of routine ships' operations. It is worth noting, I think, that the adoption of these standards was made possible by the development, largely at the initiative of the British oil industry, of the "load on top" system. Under this system, oily tank washings are pumped into a special slop tank. When the oil content of the washings has risen to the top of the tank, the sea water element is pumped off from below, and then the next cargo is loaded on top of the remaining oily residues.

In February, agreement was reached at the IMCO Conference on Tanker Safety and Pollution Prevention on protocols to the 1973 International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships and to the 1974 International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea. These protocols should improve safety by requiring all tankers of 10,000 tons gross and above to have two separately-operable remote steering gear control systems, and to be fitted with at least two independent radars, as well as by requiring more frequent inspection of the equipment of older tankers. These protocols should also reduce the potential for operational oil pollution by adopting requirements for segregated ballast tanks and crude oil washings. Of course, safety depends very much on the human factor, as has been recognised today, and with this in mind IMCO has recently held a conference in London on the training and certification of seafarers. At this conference, a convention was concluded on minimum standards of training for certificates of competency, including special training requirements for the officers and crews of oil tankers and of other ships carrying noxious cargoes in bulk.

Conventions and protocols also have to be brought into effect. IMCO agreed a target date of mid-1979 for the 1974 Safety of Life at Sea Convention and its protocol, and a target date of mid-1981 for the 1973 Prevention of Pollution from Ships Convention and its protocol. The United Kingdom has also ratified the 1974 Safety of Life at Sea Convention. In May, the Government published a White Paper, which I was asked about earlier, which includes draft clauses of a new merchant shipping Bill. I should like to say in answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, that the Bill will be introduced into Parliament as soon as possible, and it contains the powers necessary to implement the protocol to the 1974 Safety of Life at Sea Convention as well as the protocol to the 1973 Prevention of Pollution from Ships Convention.

Conventions and protocols have to be enforced, of course, as the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, recognised. This is primarily a matter for the flag State of the ship concerned, but there is also a role for the State at whose port the ship sails. The marine administrations of eight North Sea States have recently signed a memorandum of understanding designed to concert control procedures over the standards of merchant ships visiting their ports. This memorandum came into force on 1st July this year, and covers both safety conventions agreed under the auspices of IMCO and a series of conventions dealing with crew matters agreed under the auspices of the International Labour Organisation.

My Lords, I should like to say a little more about enforcement in answer to the noble Viscount, who suggested that we might, with other like-minded States, enforce international conventions before they have been ratified. I am sure that noble Lords will accept the very strong arguments in favour of multilateral action in this area. If we were to enforce new conventions immediately, this would constitute a real deterrent in the way of reaching agreement on new conventions. This is particularly so because they frequently necessitate some preparation on the part of maritime States.

I should like now to say a few words about oil spillage. The central objective of our contingency arrangements for dealing with oil spills from ships is to minimise the pollution damage which may be done to seabirds, fisheries and ecologically sensitive areas and amenity beaches. These contingency arrangements fall into two parts. The Department of Trade are responsible for dealing with oil spills at sea and the coastal and local authorities are responsible for dealing with any oil that comes close inshore or actually comes ashore. The Department of Trade's action plan is to spray chemical dispersants from ships. So far, this is the only method proven to be generally reliable and effective in the often turbulent waters found around our coasts.

The Department have centralised responsibility to the principal officers of the nine survey districts which together cover the United Kingdom coastline. Within a framework of general guidelines, each principal officer has drawn up his own contingency plan which provides for close consultation with the local authorities, with local officials of the appropriate fisheries department and with local officials of the Nature Conservancy Council and other wild-life interests. This local co-ordination is a cardinal feature of the contingency arrangements. Stocks of spraying gear and dispersants are held at various points around the coast, and principal officers have made provisional arrangements to hire suitable vessels as and when the need arises. The local authorities have substantial resources of men, vehicles and mechanical equipment for their other functions which can also be used for beach clearance. They have also acquired necessary items of specialist beach-cleaning equipment. A number of systems for containing and then recovering oil mechanically from the sea surface, while generally ineffective in the open seas, can, of course, be useful in sheltered or inshore waters. Booms may also be useful in protecting particularly sensitive areas and entrances to harbours or small rivers.

An interdepartmental group of officials reviewed our contingency arrangements in 1975/76. Their report concerned the basic structure and recommended a number of more detailed changes and improvements. That report was published in September 1976 to provide an opportunity for debate and comment. It was subsequently broadly endorsed by the Government in July last year. Since that time, we have experienced the massive pollution of the Britanny coast, resulting from the tragedy of the stranding of the "Amoco Cadiz", and the serious pollution of our own East Anglian coast following the collision involving the "Eleni V" which has been mentioned by several noble Lords today.

I must emphasise that our contingency arrangements are geared to the generality of oil spills. They could not prevent coastal pollution following a spill of "Amoco Cadiz" dimensions. Indeed, in the present state of technology, no realistic at-sea organisation can give anything approaching a guarantee against coastal pollution following a major oil spillage. The "Eleni V" presented its own difficulties. Although the quantity of oil spilled was not particularly great, chemical dispersants and mechanical recovery systems were relatively ineffective when faced with heavy fuel oil. This particular viscous oil has to be heated for pumping and congeals, as your Lordships know, into a semi-solid state at sea temperatures.

My Lords, these incidents have underlined the need to learn from all available experience, as my noble friend Lord Ritchie-Calder said, and a comprehensive stocktaking of our contingency arrangements has been set in hand—which I say to the House quite frankly. In addition, the Select Committee on Science and Technology has been undertaking an inquiry into the management of the "Eleni V" problem by the Government and other public authorities. I think your Lordships will agree that it would not be appropriate for me to comment further until the Select Committee of another place has reported. It is, of course, having a very close look at this matter.

I should also mention that our arrangements have an international dimension. The 1969 (Bonn) Agreement for Cooperation in Dealing with Pollution of the North Sea by Oil provides for the exchange of information between the eight parties about oil spills likely to affect other member countries and for mutual assistance in dealing with major oil pollution incidents. In the case of the Channel, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, in his constructive and interesting speech, Britain and France have developed a joint contingency plan for dealing with all types of maritime disaster—Mancheplan—which in essence lays down procedures for co-ordination and joint operations in major emergencies. I am glad to say in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, that we shall be having a joint British-French test exercise early next year.

The Department of Industry's Warren Spring Laboratory is nearing the end of a two year research programme aimed at developing a containment and mechanical recovery system for oil on the sea surface, which can be used in the open seas around our coasts. Results so far, I am glad to tell the House, are promising. Work is also in hand to evaluate the potential of spraying dispersant front both large and small aircraft. This could significantly improve our response capability. We also intend to set further work in hand with the object of developing useable techniques for burning oil remaining aboard a stricken tanker. As in the case of measures to improve tanker safety and reduce oil pollution, the development of oil spill clearance measures is a continuing process in which there are no quick or easy solutions.

My noble friend Lord Ritchie-Calder asked about the 1969 Amendments. The 1969 Amendments to the 1954 Oil Pollution Convention which regulate operational discharges of oily water from ships came fully into force internationally in January this year, as my noble friend said. However, the United Kingdom and several other major maritime nations had already applied these provisions to their own ships for some years previously—the United Kingdom since early 1973.

The noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, referred to the "Ella Hewitt". This trawler sank in Church Bay, off the Rathlin Islands, in 1963. It took with it about 150 tons of fuel oil. The owner of the wreck has the primary responsibility to take measures to deal with any spillage. The Department of Trade agreed in the spring of this year to take action to protect the public interest. A proposal to lift and remove the wreck proved to be disproportionately expensive and alternative means of disposing of the oil are being considered. Action was deferred during the bird breeding season (which the noble Lord mentioned) but it is planned to carry out the operation in the autumn. The Department will be writing to the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, to give him details.

The noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, referred to exercise "Black Watch" which took place off Milford Haven and simulated collision between a large oil tanker and a passenger-carrying ferry. It tested both search and rescue and antipollution facilities, and involved action by several authorities, including the Department of Trade and the Services, mentioned by the noble Baroness, and the Milford Haven Conservancy Board. The contingency arrangements worked well; but detailed improvements will be made to local arrangements as well as being disseminated to similar organisations in other parts of the country.

In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, the news of the French depolluting vessel is noted. In general, anti-pollution vessels are expensive, especially when only used infrequently. Our own Warren Springs Laboratory has in recent months been developing a system of recovering oil from the sea surface to be used by vessels of opportunity, though it is not yet fully developed but the results are encouraging. The noble Lord, Lord Greenway, also spoke about ship routing schemes. The United Kingdom has also played a leading role in securing improvements in the safety of navigation through international agreements on ship routing schemes in international waters.

The first internationally adopted separation scheme was that in the Dover Strait. The Anglo-French Safety of Navigation Group's recent report shows how, as a result of sustained efforts over a period of years, ship behaviour has improved in that busiest of all sea lanes. Collisions, I am glad to say, have fallen from an annual average of 12 before 1972 to a yearly total of six or less in subsequent years, and only three in 1977. There has been a similar dramatic fall in the number of contraventions of the scheme. Elsewhere in the Channel we have acted with France and through IMCO, as the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, said, to amend the separation schemes off Ushant and the Casquets so as to keep tankers further off-shore. It is too early to say yet what the results will be, but we hope that they will be successful.

We are currently putting forward Amendments in IMCO to the schemes off our own South-West coasts. When framing our proposals, we have had the benefit of the advice of Trinity House, as mentioned by the noble Lord. In the coming months, we shall be looking carefully at their suggestion for a shipping "motorway" through the Channel, and other proposals on ships' routing. We shall be helped in this by the results—to be published shortly—of a survey made last year of traffic throughout the Channel.

I should also mention that we are in the final stages of a joint study with France of a ship movement "reporting in" system as they pass through the traffic separation schemes in the Channel. This would cover large tankers, gas and chemical carriers and other ships that might be a danger to them, and would be subject to international agreement in IMCO. We shall be submitting our detailed plans to IMCO next week.

The noble Lords, Lord Greenway and Strathcona and Mount Royal, mentioned the very important matter of communications and the problems of language. It is not thought that this will be a problem in this particular connection, because English is of course the international maritime language and will probably be used for the great majority of the reports. We note what both noble Lords have said.

Our efforts have not, however, been confined solely to the busy seaways of the Channel and the Dover Straits. After a survey of traffic and its behaviour in the other United Kingdom separation schemes around the Irish Sea, we shall shortly be proposing various improvements in IMCO. We have also been encouraged by the action of the Marine Advisory Committee, representing most of the major oil companies working in British waters, in drawing up suggested routes for tankers sailing near the Shetlands and in the Irish and North Seas. I understand that these routes may soon be published. This is a useful self-help scheme to improve the safety of navigation.

The noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, raised the question of the intervention after a casualty. He referred to the possibility of a tanker collision outside our territorial waters. In such circumstances, we would indeed first endeavour to contact the ship-owner and flag State. However, if there were insufficient time to do so, we have power to intervene under the Prevention of Oil Pollution Act 1971. We would of course use these powers as appropriate.

The noble Earl also asked: What are the penalties for disregarding separation lanes? Contraventions of the rules governing behaviour of shipping in separation schemes are at present subject to a maximum fine of £100. This of course has for some time been considered inadequate. I think that it is ludicrous. It was proposed in the White Paper published in May, which contained draft clauses of a new merchant shipping Bill, that the maximum penalty should be increased at £1,000. In view of the great harm which may result from various contraventions, however, this maximum sum, I am glad to say, is now being examined with a view to ensuring that it is established at an appropriately severe level.

With regard to United Kingdom territorial waters, I may say in answer to the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, that the question of a possible extension of United Kingdom's territorial waters has been raised, and I can confirm that this issue is now under consideration by the Government. The noble Earl also asked about liquefied gas carriers. IMCO codes for the construction and equipment of ships carrying liquefied gasses in bulk and for existing ships carrying liquefied gasses in bulk, lay down minimum standards of equipment for gas carriers which take full account of the hazardous nature of the cargo. Nearly all gas carriers built since 1972 have been designed to meet the code standards. The recent IMCO Conference reorganised the need for special training for the crews of gas carriers as well as of oil tankers.

The noble Earl, Lord Kinnuoll, asked if the Lloyd's open form is satisfactory. As a result of the uncertainty which appears to have surrounded events leading up to the stranding of the "Amoco Cadiz", a range of studies on the present international salvage regime has been set in hand. The council of IMCO have accepted the need for urgent attention to be given to this subject. The secretariat have therefore been instructed to prepare a report setting out existing weaknesses and measures to remove them.

In answer to the noble Earl's question about spillages, reports received by Her Majesty's Coastguard of sitings of oil around United Kingdom coasts, either at sea or on the beach, totalled 169 in 1976 and 164 in 1977. No figures are yet available for this year. It is not possible to say how many of these sitings are genuine and how many were what I may describe seriously as "false alarms" through heightened interest. We shall certainly take note of what the noble Baroness said about the possibility of a Lloyd's register of stranded ships, and I will write to her if I may about that.

I should like now to say a few words about compensation and the general position, a point which was raised by my noble friend Lord Ritchie-Calder. The arrangements for compensation for oil pollution damage have been greatly improved since the stranding of the "Torrey Canyon". The first major step forward was the International Convention on Civil Liability for Oil Pollution Damage in 1969. Under this Convention, the owner of an oil tanker is generally liable for oil pollution damage whether or not the damage results from his fault or negligence. The owner of the oil tanker may limit his liability within a maximum of about £9 million per incident, unless the incident results from his own fault, when his liability is unlimited. The owner of a tanker carrying more than 2,000 tons of oil as cargo must carry insurance to cover his maximum liability. This Convention has been ratified by 35 countries and came into force on 19th June 1975. The Merchant Shipping (Oil Pollution) Act 1971 made the necessary changes to United Kingdom law.

It was realised in 1969 that there would still be circumstances in which the shipowner would not be liable or in which his liability would be insufficient to meet the cost of the oil pollution damage. As a result, the International Convention on the Establishment of an International Fund for Compensation for Oil Pollution Damage was agreed in 1971. This convention will increase the amount of compensation available to those who suffered damage from oil pollution or who take action to avoid or minimise such damage to about £19½ million, and includes a procedure to increase that amount up to about £39 million at any time. This topping-up fund will derive its monies from a levy on oil importing companies. The United Kingdom ratified this convention in April 1976 and the powers required to implement it are available in the Merchant Shipping Act 1974. The convention will come into force on 16th October 1978.

The oil industry had, of course, as is well known, voluntarily set up a scheme to supplement the 1969 convention, and this is known as the Contract Regarding an Interim Supplement to Tanker Liability for Oil Pollution, which in its abbreviated form is known as CRISTAL. This came into effect on 1st April 1971 and covered (and indeed still covers) nearly all the crude oil and fuel oil moved by sea. The purpose of CRISTAL is to increase the amount available from all sources to reimburse reasonable expenditure on avoiding or minimising oil pollution damage or as compensation for such damage. Until recently the maximum amount available from all sources was made up by CRISTAL to about £16 million per incident. Since 1st June, CRISTAL has increased this figure to about £19 million. Compensation is available to private parties as well as to Governments, and does not depend on the tanker owner's fault or negligence. The tanker owner's "clean-up costs" are, however, a first charge on CRISTAL.

CRISTAL, which is largely a voluntary scheme, as I said, will be largely superseded by the statutory 1971 Fund Convention, when this comes into force. I understand the 1969 convention and the CRISTAL scheme apply to the "Eleni V" incident: consequently, we expect that there will be up to £16 million available to meet claims for compensation. It is soo soon to estimate what the claims will be. At a rough estimate, the Government expect to claim some £2 million. The main items covered are the hire of dispersant spraying vessels, the cost of the dispersants used and the cost of the salvage operation.

Then there is the question of the local authorities. Local authorities, like anyone else, can make a claim under the Merchant Shipping (Oil Pollution) Act 1971 which implements the 1969 convention and, of course, under CRISTAL. For the most part, one would expect their claims to be for expenditure on preventing or reducing pollution damage or on cleaning up oil pollution. It has now been decided that in the initial stages the Government will negotiate on a without-prejudice basis with the "Eleni V" insurers and CRISTAL for the recovery of the costs of the East Anglian local authorities as well as its own coasts. I am sure that will be of interest to the noble Lord, Lord Buxton, who conies from East Anglia.

Private parties—very important—such as fishermen and hoteliers can also make a claim under the Merchant Shipping (Oil Pollution) Act 1971 which implements the 1969 convention, or under CRISTAL. Apart from claims for actual physical damage, for example, fouled fishing nets, we would expect most of these claims to be for loss of earnings resulting from oil pollution damage.

The noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, asked about insurance against fines. The feasibility of preventing shipowners from taking out insurance against fines is under consideration by the Government. There are difficulties, including the fact that this form of insurance is offered by insurers who are not necessarily based in the United Kingdom; but it is something that is in hand.

I should like to say, in conclusion, that this has been a very interesting and useful debate. I hope I have answered most of the points that have been raised by your Lordships, but if there is anything I have not covered I shall be glad to write to noble Lords and answer them in more detail.